Alaska’s Republican Congressional Delegation asks Biden Administration to defend American waters from Canadian mine contamination. Will it?
June 28 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNEAU—Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, along with Congressman Don Young, have sent a letter of concern to the Biden Administration regarding potential impacts from risky large-scale mines in Canada near transboundary waters that flow into Alaska. The letter, dated June 24, went to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and urges the Department of State and Canada to protect downstream communities from British Columbia (B.C.) mines’ potential negative impacts, in line with the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. In spite of decades of repeated efforts from both Republican and Democratic state and federal lawmakers, a proven record of failures in B.C., and repeated requests from sovereign Indigenous nations, B.C. has continued to heavily industrialize and put at risk the international salmon rivers vital to the Tongass National Forest. The ball is now in the Biden Administration’s court.
The letter highlights that seven years after Canada’s worst environmental disaster, at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine, Americans are still not protected “from the potential downstream impacts of B.C.’s large-scale mines.” It also follows a report released on June 18, 2021 by the British Columbia government, highlighting that B.C. has failed to follow through on its commitments to prioritize human health and environmental safety in its mining regulations. Those commitments were made after the 2016 B.C. Auditor General reported that when it comes to the mining industry, “B.C. is failing on every level to protect human health and the environment.”
“We are very thankful that our congressional delegation continues to alert the Department of State regarding this complex international issue, especially as our wild salmon populations are struggling in the face of the climate crisis. But so far, these letters have fallen short to garner the attention of Secretaries of State. Thousands of Alaskans are united in asking to protect our coastal communities from B.C. — the bad neighbors next door — and we have been waiting, so far in vain, for our federal government to defend American interests and communities from existing and threatened Canadian mine contamination. President Biden has committed to initiatives like America the Beautiful and the Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership. If those commitments are to have any real meaning, Secretary Blinken must take immediate action to prevent our vital international salmon rivers from being completely overrun with poorly regulated, polluting mines in Canada,” said Salmon Beyond Borders Director Jill Weitz.
Lawmakers representing all U.S. states bordering B.C. have asked B.C. Premier Horgan to address B.C.’s shortcomings and to stop contaminating U.S. watersheds. Earlier this month, Senator John Tester submitted a letter to Secretary Blinken requesting that he engage with Canada regarding B.C. selenium leaching from Teck Coal’s (Teck Resources) mining operations along the Elk River in Canada and into Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River in Montana. Twenty-five Washington lawmakers sent a letter to B.C. Premier in May of 2021, and Alaska state lawmakers have done the same. Furthermore, in 2019, the Senate delegations from Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana — every state downstream of British Columbia — submitted a bipartisan, joint letter of concern to B.C. Premier John Horgan, expressing concerns that B.C.’s industrialization of the headwaters of shared rivers will negatively affect shared resources.
“All sectors of Southeast Alaska, including Tribes, commercial and sport fishermen, business owners, municipalities, and hard working Alaskans, are united with the congressional delegation’s efforts to attract attention and action from the Department of State. What is missing from this renewed delegation letter is the signature of Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy,” said Weitz. “Without it, B.C. and its mining industry continue to block action, claiming division amongst Alaska’s elected officials. In all four states downstream — Washington, Idaho, and Montana as well — Canada is reluctant to correct its liabilities and is attempting to prevent the Department of State from taking action. Until B.C. is accountable for the ramifications of industrializing the headwaters of some of North America’s last remaining great wild salmon rivers, B.C. remains a liability to Canada, to the global markets, and to companies seeking to invest in responsible resource development.”
Jill Weitz, Salmon Beyond Borders, email@example.com, 907.957.9504
Salmon Beyond Borders is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, tourism and recreation business owners, and concerned citizens, in collaboration with Tribes and First Nations. It is united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs, and way of life.
June 22, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNEAU— An audit by British Columbia’s Mine Audits and Effectiveness Unit, an independent team in the provincial government’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, has revealed that the ministry is continuing to fail to protect communities and the environment — including in Alaska and other U.S. states — from the catastrophic risks associated with massive, toxic mine waste dams, also known as tailings dams.
The report makes clear that mining code changes brought in after the 2014 Mount Polley tailings disaster — which sent 6.6 billion gallons of mining waste into the Fraser River watershed — are ambiguous, open to multiple interpretations and lack the definition needed to ensure compliance, verification and enforcement. While B.C. markets itself to the U.S. as a global leader for “responsible metals” sourcing, this report shows that’s far from true. Among other things, 28% of 64 mine waste dams the audit considered were out of compliance. Seven out of 31 mine waste dams determined to have “very high or high'' consequence ratings for failure do not meet requirements. It is clear that safety is merely a consideration, not the priority, throughout B.C.’s mine permitting process.
“Time and again, B.C. Premier John Horgan has given the mining industry the keys to drive the bus, and we’re all along for the ride, whether we like it or not. This report makes clear how irresponsible that is,”said Jill Weitz, Director of Salmon Beyond Borders. “Lakes full of contaminants held back by earthen dams are the most likely to fail and to harm those of us downstream — yet despite this knowledge, B.C. continues to approve these risky projects. It’s imperative that the Biden Administration and the Trudeau Administration prioritize working together to prevent damage to international salmon rivers, and to ensure that Indigenous peoples, fishermen, and others connected to the rivers that give us life have a meaningful voice in what becomes of their homes.”
“Our people have known our rivers since time immemorial,” said Frederick Olsen, Jr., Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC), which has petitioned British Columbia to halt the permitting of new mines and expansion of existing mines until a formal Tribal consultation process is implemented. “It is incredibly upsetting that foreign corporations are being allowed to endanger the rivers that give us life, while ignoring sovereign nations downstream. This report confirms that these corporations are still allowed to prioritize their bottom line over human life and human and ecological health. It’s time for Tribes to have a voice in the future of our homelands.”
Over the protest of Tribes, fishermen, municipalities, businesses, First Nations and many others, the B.C. government is pushing through a glut of massive open-pit mines and mine waste dams in the headwaters of Southeast Alaska’s most important salmon rivers — the Taku, Stikine and Unuk. Some of those projects, like the proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine in the Unuk watershed, rival the size of the proposed Pebble Mine, in Bristol Bay. The abandoned Tulsequah Chief Mine in the Taku River watershed, has been contaminating the river system with acid mine drainage and heavy metals for more than 60 years.
B.C. does not require the consideration of cumulative impacts of multiple projects, though in some cases more than half the overall watershed is staked (on the Unuk River, 59 percent is staked; on the Iskut, the largest tributary of the Stikine, virtually all of the corridor is staked. The Stikine is also where the Red Chris Mine, which is co-owned by Imperial Metals, the company responsible for the much smaller Mt. Polley mine is already operating.) B.C. does not require that companies post clean up money prior to permitting, meaning if any of these companies go bankrupt, those downstream will be left with the mess. B.C. does not require the consent of Indigenous peoples impacted, in spite of British Columbia’s ostensible commitment to UNDRIP — the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Frederick Olsen Jr., Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, firstname.lastname@example.org, 907.738.7319
Jill Weitz, Salmon Beyond Borders, email@example.com, 907.957.9504
Alaskans call on Biden Administration, State of Alaska to ensure comprehensive cleanup and closure of British Columbia mine polluting transboundary Taku River
(JUNEAU)—Alaskans today are cautiously encouraged by two recent steps taken to address the ongoing toxic acid mine drainage from the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine, located in the northwest British Columbia (B.C.) portion of the transboundary Taku River watershed, and to prepare for the eventual closure and remediation of the mine site. But they also note that these are only two small steps. There is still much to be done to ensure the Tulsequah Chief is closed down and cleaned up, and to safeguard the lower Taku River from the threat of additional mining.
According to a June 9 article from the Canadian publication The Narwhal, Teck Resources, which is a responsible party fully liable for mine cleanup and closure, is now contributing about $1.5 million to fund studies and site preparation activities this year. The Tulsequah Chief was abandoned by Cominco (which later merged with Teck to become Teck Cominco, now known as Teck Resources) in 1957. Also, the article quoted an email from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation that stated, “The Chief Gold Commissioner established a no-staking reserve under the Mineral Tenure Act over the Tulsequah Mine area in 2017. As long as the no-staking reserve remains in place, mineral rights cannot be re-staked should they forfeit or return to the Crown.”
“It is encouraging to see the B.C. provincial government establish this no-staking reserve. Once the receivership is concluded in August 2022, this will prevent a re-start of mining activities at the Tulsequah Chief site. It’s also good to see Teck Resources, a legally responsible party, begin to contribute to the cleanup. But there is still a lot to do to ensure the Tulsequah Chief is closed down and cleaned up. We need our state and federal leaders to ensure B.C. provides a clear and detailed cleanup and closure plan, a plan for fully funding the cleanup, closure and long-term monitoring, a commitment from B.C. to ensure the lower Taku River area doesn’t face continued threats from mining, and a seat at the table for Alaskans,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders.
In August 2019, the B.C. provincial government released a draft Closure and Reclamation Plan for the Tulsequah Chief Mine Site and appropriated $1.6 million for its activities. In October, Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice ruled to halt the long receivership process for Chieftain Metals, owner of the Tulsequah Chief Mine. The court decision is significant because as long as the receivership process was ongoing, B.C. was legally prevented from taking specific measures to assume responsibility for the mine. However, the Court also gave Chieftain Metals’ largest creditor, West Face Capital, until August 2022 to find a buyer for the mine and petition the court to re-start the receivership process.
“Investors must know by now from Alaska lawmakers, Tribes, and coastal fishing communities that the Tulsequah Chief mine in the largest tributary of the Taku River — one of our planet’s last remaining wild salmon rivers — isn’t a viable project, economically, environmentally, politically or culturally. We recognize that British Columbia is moving to take over responsibility for the cleanup and closure of the Tulsequah Chief mine site. But, we’re largely in the dark as to specific details, timelines, funding, and B.C.’s long term plans for the lower Taku River area,” said Frederick Olsen, Jr, Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC). “This is a cautionary tale of the industry for us downstream.”
Since the mine began operating in 1951, there have been three owners of the Tulsequah Chief, Cominco (now Teck Resources), Redfern Resources, and Chieftain Metals. Redfern went out of business in 2009 and Chieftain is in bankruptcy proceedings, so Teck Resources is now the sole remaining responsible party with resources to pay for cleanup and closure. B.C. has already spent $1.4 million in bonds from these companies, so the additional estimated $60.4 million will have to come from Teck Resources and/or the B.C. taxpayer, exemplifying B.C.’s policies that do not require companies to pay full reclamation bonding at the time of permitting. Presently, B.C. has almost $1 billion in unfunded liabilities throughout the Province.
“Teck Resources has committed just 2.4 percent of the total $61.8 million estimated cost of cleaning up a mine that has been polluting Canadian and U.S. waters for more than 60 years, and for which they are completely liable. Tulsequah Chief, and other Teck projects polluting downstream neighboring communities, are prime examples of the inadequacies of B.C.'s mining laws that allow giant corporations to walk away from their messes — leaving it up to B.C. taxpayers and those of us downstream to bear the burden. These laws must change, and polluters must pay. It’s the cost of doing business,” said Jill Weitz of Salmon Beyond Borders.
The funds from Teck Resources will contribute towards work at the mine site this season, including a LIDAR study, other site characterization studies, and repairs to roads and bridges.
“B.C. and Teck should be doing all they can between now and August 2022 to complete studies and other site work, formalize plans for halting the acid mine drainage and reclaiming the mine site, and to make sure that the mine reclamation plan is shovel-ready once the receivership process formally ends,” said Zimmer. “The Biden Administration and State of Alaska need to keep the pressure on B.C. to ensure this happens.”