Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott have joined with the state’s congressional delegation in urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to put British Columbia mining projects on the agenda for upcoming talks between the State Department and Global Affairs Canada.
Their stated concern is that mining in British Columbia along salmon-rich transboundary rivers could threaten American economic interests because of “inadequate financial mechanisms to assure long term management of toxic wastes and redress for damages from potential releases.” The letter expresses concern that increasing mineral development and legacy mining impacts in the Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds threatens these world-renowned salmon runs critical to the state’s commercial fishing and visitor industries, as well as traditional nutritional and cultural needs of the state’s Native population.
The letter asks Tillerson to consider whether an International Joint Commissioner reference is a suitable venue to evaluate whether mines operating in the transboundary region are implementing best management practices in the treatment of wastewaters and management of potential acid generating tailings and waste rock.
The letter urges Tillerson to support funding and other needed resources to develop a reliable database of water quality and related information for transboundary waters for use in tracking cumulative impacts, trends and significant episodic changes associated with operating and historic mines in the transboundary region.
The letter also calls for establishment of an interagency task force, led by the State Department, to work in collaboration with the state of Alaska to develop recommendations and funding to ensure protection of transboundary rivers.
A report issued in mid-November by the United Nations Environmental Program identifies prevention of tailings dam disasters as a challenge made more difficult by the nature of the mining industry. The report also asks if society should demand more sustainable practices in the design and planning of tailings management, including zero, or minimal mine waste and turning mine waste into secondary resources.