U.S. IJC commissioners call out Canadian commissioners for repressing data on B.C. mine pollution of transboundary U.S. rivers
July 11, 2018
U.S. IJC commissioners call out Canadian commissioners for repressing data on
B.C. mine pollution of transboundary U.S. rivers
In an unprecedented move, U.S. commissioners for the U.S.-Canada International Joint Commission (IJC) have accused their Canadian counterparts of repressing information on B.C. mine pollution — and resulting fish kills — in a transboundary U.S.-Canada watershed. The commissioners wrote in a letter to the Department of State’s Office of Canadian Affairs Director Cynthia Kierscht that the “province of British Columbia (B.C.) knows that mining impacts cannot be mitigated to satisfy Article IV of the Boundary Waters Treaty, and, for this reason, B.C. does not want the Parties to refer mining issues to the IJC for resolution.” The revelation makes clear what is at risk for Southeast Alaska if it remains unprotected from B.C. mines near the headwaters of transboundary rivers — and Alaska’s urgent need for binding enforceable protections and financial assurances, which only federal action can achieve.
In the recent letter, dated June 20, U.S. Section Chair Lana Pollack and U.S. Section Commissioner Rich Moy said the Canadian commissioners refused to certify a report six years in the making on selenium pollution’s effect in the Elk-Kootenai watershed in Montana. Instead, Canadian commissioners chose to use a report from the 1980s, which does not include data on selenium.
Teck Coal, operating in B.C. along the Montana border, has been fined for releasing selenium into the Elk-Kootenai watershed far beyond levels considered safe. Furthermore, B.C. authorized Teck Coal to shut down its water treatment plant because it was actually making the problem worse by creating and releasing a form of selenium that kills fish. Selenium pollution from Teck mines has killed a significant percentage of trout in the Elk River — up to 50 percent in some parts of the watershed, according to the letter — deformed them, and rendered them sterile. In spite of these violations, the B.C. government has recently issued expansion permits to Teck’s existing mines in the transboundary Elk-Kootenai watershed.
“Ground contamination with selenium will only get worse… and will last for centuries in the Elk-Kootenai watershed,” the commissioners wrote. “There is a question as to whether the technology even exists to remove selenium from large volumes of flowing water and there is no viable solution to remove selenium from groundwater.”
Due to the geology of Northwest B.C. and the quantity of hard rock B.C. proposes to mine along the Alaska border, all of the more than a dozen mines operating or proposed in the area, including Imperial Metals’ operating Red Chris mine and Seabridge Gold’s proposed KSM mine, will require selenium treatment not only during their operation, but forever after their closure.
“Mining regulation in B.C. appears to be a case of the fox guarding the henhouse,” said Heather Hardcastle, Salmon Beyond Borders campaign advisor. “The U.S. IJC commissioners have highlighted how Canada and B.C. have abdicated their duties to the Boundary Waters Treaty. The U.S. must defend our resources before it’s too late. We look to Gov. Bill Walker, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, and the Alaska congressional delegation to continue pushing the U.S. Department of State to demand of Canada binding protections and financial assurances for U.S. interests in U.S.-B.C. watersheds.”
“This kind of damage to fish and their habitat — death by a thousand cuts — is what we are fighting to prevent here in Southeast Alaska,” said Salmon Beyond Borders Campaign Director Jill Weitz. “We are so grateful to the U.S. commissioners for doing their job to defend U.S. interests and for drawing attention to this data, Canadian commissioners’ repression of it, and the B.C. government’s complicity in it all. Alaska needs federal intervention now, before we’re dealing with salmon deformities and infertility in the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers.”
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Salmon Beyond Borders
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