The Alaska Delegation recently joined together to urge the Secretary of State to discuss the risks posed by transboundary mining activity during upcoming bilateral meetings between the United States and Canada. Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, Congressman Don Young, Governor Bill Walker, and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing Alaska’s priorities for strong and continued engagement between the State Department and the Canadian Government on the management of mining activity affecting Alaska and British Columbia’s transboundary waters.
“We write to express our appreciation for the Administration’s preliminary efforts to protect American interests in the face of potential environmental harm from large-scale hard rock mines in Canada that lack fundamental international oversight,” said the Alaska Delegation. “These Canadian mining projects are located near transboundary rivers that flow from British Columbia into four U.S. states, including Alaska, and, if managed poorly, pose a threat to Southeast Alaska’s flourishing commercial fishing and tourism industries.”
In November 2017 the Alaska Delegation sent a letter to then-Secretary Rex Tillerson urging the State Department to prioritize transboundary watersheds, bringing this important issue to the Cabinet level. That letter has been followed by sustained efforts on behalf of the Delegations to engage with their Canadian counterparts and work towards accountability for mining projects that may affect transboundary watersheds. Specifically, the Alaska Delegation has repeatedly stressed the need for binding protections, joint water quality monitoring, and financial assurances to ensure mine operators in British Columbia will be held accountable for any impacts to transboundary water quality that might threaten Alaskan livelihoods or subsistence.
“It is clear that this Administration takes the issue of transboundary watersheds very seriously. We therefore urge the Administration, through your Department, to deliver a strong message in defense of American interests at the next U.S. – Canada bilateral meetings in Ottawa in October 2018. We specifically request that the Department’s representatives impress upon their Canadian counterparts the critical need for binding protections, joint water quality monitoring, and financial assurances to protect Americans downstream of large-scale Canadian mines, as outlined in our 2017 letter,” the Delegation wrote. “We appreciate the Administration’s efforts to date. American resources, communities, and industries must not be harmed by developments upstream in British Columbia.
In the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations package for Fiscal Year 2019, currently being negotiated by a House-Senate conference committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski included $1.5 million in the Senate version for stream gauges to monitor water quality on transboundary rivers, a $1 million increase from fiscal year 2017 funding levels, and directed the U.S. Geological Survey to enter into a formal partnership with local tribes and other agencies to help develop a water quality strategy for transboundary rivers.
In February 2018, Senator Sullivan and Lt. Governor Mallott traveled to Ottawa, Canada, to meet with senior officials in the Canadian government to discuss the transboundary mining issues impacting Southeast Alaska. In August 2018, they followed up with a letter to the Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna and Minister of International Trade James Carr, thanking the Canadians for their attention to transboundary mining issues, while continuing to stress several key areas of concern that require attention.