U.S./B.C. Transboundary Rivers in the News, May 6 - September 9, 2020
Hello transboundary river supporters,
2020 has offered challenges no matter where you look, but there have been some big milestones this summer in the work to address the risks posed by British Columbia mines along international transboundary rivers. A few highlights:
Overarching Transboundary Mine Waste Concerns
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year sent a letter to B.C. regulators demanding information about why Teck Resources is allowed to exceed contaminant limits in the transboundary Elk-Kootenai watershed — highlighting increased concern from the U.S. over B.C.’s reckless mining regulations and oversight.
May 11, Canadian Press — United States increasingly concerned over pollution from B.C. mines
Concern is also rising, generally, about the risk of mine waste (tailings) dam failures.
August 20, Science Magazine — Catastrophic failures raise concerns about dams containing muddy mine wastes
Several global and local efforts to address the risks tailings dams pose to sensitive areas like salmon-bearing rivers were finalized this year. The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management is one of those. Many say it falls far short, however, of what is required to prevent pollution, property damage, and loss of life.
June 24, Reuters — Exclusive: Global tailings dam standards fall short of changes sought by civil society groups
August 6, CoastAlaska – Global mine tailings standards rest on voluntary compliance
More stringent mine waste standards are outlined in the proposed “Safety First” guidelines, supported and released this summer by an international coalition of more than 140 organizations, including Salmon Beyond Borders and Southeast Alaska Tribes.
June 29, Reuters — Environmental groups propose tailings dam safety standards
A letter from an international group of 22 scientists and policy experts, published in late April in Science and explored in our last media roundup, led to calls from sportsmen and former International Joint Commission commissioners for more protective mining policies in transboundary watersheds.
May 11, East Kootenay News Online Weekly — Opinion: Mining policies in transboundary watersheds must improve
May 26, East Kootenay News Online Weekly — Opinion: Fix Canadian mining now
Specific Projects in Shared Alaska / B.C. River Systems
When it comes to specific projects, this year has led to big developments with the Tulsequah Chief mine, which has been contaminating the Taku River watershed with acid mine drainage since it was abandoned by Teck Resources (formerly Teck-Cominco) more than 60 years ago. In coordination with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, the province was to begin work to ready the site for cleanup this summer. Though B.C. will fund the first $1.6 million, the province is not yet sure who will pay for the full cleanup. The estimated total price tag is at least $100 million, including the $1 million per year needed to pay for water treatment in perpetuity.
August 13, The Narwhal — Cleaning up B.C.’s Tulsequah Chief Mine will cost $48.7 million
September, 7, Juneau Empire — Opinion: Mine cleanup plan is encouraging, but there’s still work to be done
The Tulsequah Chief mine also highlights that the financial assurances B.C. requires of its mines are inadequate to cover reclamation of a mine site, with a $1.2 billion shortfall across the province. Canadian taxpayers will most likely foot most of the $100 million cleanup bill, unless the B.C. Chief Inspector of Mines Herman Henning holds Teck Resources, the historical mine owner, liable — which is entirely within the inspector’s discretion and authority to do.
August 21, The Province — B.C. holds only $1 million security for up to $100 million cleanup of Tulsequah Chief Mine
Part of the reason it’s unclear who will clean up the Tulsequah Chief mine: the mine’s current owner, Chieftain Metals, is being sued by a creditor for $20 million.
August 7, CoastAlaska News — Tulsequah Chief creditors delay cleanup of contaminated mine site
In the Unuk River watershed, Seabridge Gold, proponent of the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine project — which would be one of the largest mines on the planet if built as proposed — has requested a two-year extension of its environmental assessment (EA) certificate, reviving calls for a new impact assessment that incorporates updated mining practices and new information, specifically since Imperial Metals’ 2014 Mount Polley mine tailings disaster.
August 19, The Narwhal — Seabridge Gold asks B.C. for more time to begin KSM mine construction, citing COVID-19
August 27, CoastAlaska — Large open-pit mine developer near AK border asks Canadian regulators for more time
The Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC) is one of the groups requesting a new EA for KSM. “KSM would be huge and so close to us. Our people need a say in the process,” said Sylvia Banie, Vice President of the Organized Village of Saxman and Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission’s Secretary.
August 21, Indian Country Today, Press Release — Like Alaska’s Pebble Mine, this project is located in the wrong place
Threats to Washington / B.C. Transboundary Rivers
Pressure is mounting in Washington state to defend the transboundary Skagit River from mining in the “donut hole,” the unprotected, sensitive area between two parks in B.C. near the B.C. / Washington border. Indigenous leaders also recently highlighted how B.C. mining projects threaten additional salmon rivers shared by Washington and B.C.
July 19, The Province — Opinion: Mike Harcourt and Ken Farquharson: It's time to finish saving the Skagit
August 30, The Seattle Times — Opinion: Protect Washington’s rivers from British Columbia mining waste. Written by Scott Schuyler of Sedro-Woolley, who is a lifelong fisherman, tribal member and the natural resources director of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, and Rob Edward of Keremeos, B.C, who is a traditional knowledge keeper and former chief of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band.
The Skagit was the focus of this comprehensive piece on the dangers recklessly regulated B.C. mines pose to rivers that flow into the U.S.
May 26, Sierra — A river runs through international borders
B.C.’s Mount Polley Mine and the Fraser River
This August 4 marked the sixth anniversary of the Mount Polley tailings dam disaster, for which Imperial Metals has still not been held liable by B.C. Bev Sellars, grandmother and former chief of the Xat’sull Nation, wrote, “The disaster was an opportunity for British Columbia and Canada to change their Gold Rush-era mining laws. But they didn’t. Instead, they continue to allow industry to use the Fraser River watershed as a garbage dump.”
August 13, CBC — Contamination from Mount Polley spill continues to affect waterways, study finds
August 11, Juneau Empire — Opinion: We are poisoning our future. There’s a better way.
While charges have not been levied against Imperial Metals, engineers tasked with monitoring the failed tailings dam face discipline and fines.
June 4, Prince George Matters — Engineers face discipline over northern B.C. mine disaster
The Mount Polley failure and failures of global tailings dams that have caused loss of life, property, and health worldwide have resulted in calls to ban mine waste dumps upstream of communities from many organizations, including B.C.’s First Nations Energy and Mining Council and Salmon Beyond Borders.
August 10, Business Intelligence for B.C. — Lessons learned from the Mount Polley disaster
Wild Salmon and Climate Change Along the Salmon Coast
Meanwhile, Fraser River sockeye salmon runs have collapsed. This year was expected to be “the worst year since tracking began in 1893.”
August 11, CBC — 'Quite dire': Fraser River sockeye salmon run expected to be worst ever recorded
Abysmal salmon returns led to closures of Chinook fishing on the Taku and Stikine Rivers.
June 23, Terrace Standard — Sport fishing season for chinook salmon closed on B.C.’s Stikine and Taku Rivers
Climate change and an abundance of hatchery fish competing for food are leading Alaska’s salmon, especially Chinook, to return to their natal streams younger and smaller.
August 25, Seattle Times -- Alaska salmon returning smaller amid climate change, competition with hatchery fish, study finds
Climate change is also impacting Alaska’s salmon-rich freshwater systems.
July 28, The Cordova Times — What climate change means for Alaska’s rivers — and king salmon
The B.C. / Montana / Idaho Border
Along the B.C. / Montana / Idaho border, pollution from Teck Resources’ coal mines have caused selenium levels to skyrocket. Selenium is lethal in large amounts and recently wiped out cutthroat trout in a transboundary tributary of the Elk River that flows past Teck’s mines. Because of its transboundary implications and impacts to fish and First Nations, the Canadian federal government announced it will conduct a federal impact assessment of the Castle project, Teck’s planned expansion of its network of coal mines. B.C. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman pointed out that “trans-border issues” are “matters of federal jurisdiction.” First Nations, Tribes, organizations including Salmon Beyond Borders, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had called for this action and applaud Minister Wilkinson’s decision.
August 19, The Canadian Press — Feds to join assessment of Teck coal mine expansion in B.C.
August 19, The Narwhal — Ottawa to review Teck’s Castle Mountain coal mine in B.C. amid concerns over fish habitat
Please stay tuned for, after five years of research and negotiation, imminent news of the adoption of a new, stricter water quality standard for selenium by the State of Montana and the Province of B.C. in the transboundary Elk-Kootenai River.
Digital Engagement During COVID-19
This May, Salmon Beyond Borders hosted a webinar discussion called “Western Transboundary Watersheds and the Boundary Waters Treaty” with Indigenous leaders on both sides of the border, scientific and policy experts, and members of the International Joint Commission, which works to find international solutions under the U.S./Canada Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.
May 17, The Cordova Times — Indigenous leaders connecting on transboundary issues
That webinar is available here.
In July, leading up to the sixth anniversary of the Mount Polley tailings dam disaster, Salmon Beyond Borders co-hosted a webinar with Canadian partners called “No More Mount Polleys,” which featured Indigenous leaders and technical experts. That webinar is available here.
In one of the most incredible projects with which Salmon Beyond Borders has had the honor to be involved, Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission and Ping Chong + Company recently presented When the Salmon Spoke: Indigenous Stories of the Stikine River, in collaboration with Salmon Beyond Borders and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. The online premiere of this digital production was directly followed by a virtual “Salmon Wauwau” — an online roundtable discussion with project collaborators and Tlingit, Tahltan, and Haida storytellers. If you haven’t yet, we invite you to listen to these important Indigneous stories from both sides of the transboundary Stikine River here.
A Well-deserved Retirement
Finally, Tis Peterman, who has worked tirelessly to defend the Stikine and other transboundary Alaska / B.C. rivers from recklessly regulated B.C. mines, retired as the executive director of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC) this summer. Along with many, many others, we extend our heartfelt thanks to Tis for her years of work, and welcome Fred Otilius Olsen, Jr., the new ED of SEITC!
June 25, Salmon Beyond Borders blog — People of the Salmon Coast: Tis Peterman
May 26, KINY — Tis Peterman to retire as director of SEITC
As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read this update. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or comments.
Salmon Beyond Borders director
Dear transboundary river supporters,
First and foremost, we send our best wishes for your health and safety in these frightening times.
Even and especially in these times, however, our shared work to defend and sustain the waters, lands and salmon that give us life continues. Soon the salmon will return in force, and we continue to do all we can to ensure they return to clean, healthy transboundary rivers. We want to keep you in the loop, so here are some highlights from the first quarter of 2020.
In a new study, B.C.’s Chief Inspector of Mines found that B.C. taxpayers are on the hook for $1.2 billion in mine cleanup costs.
March 6, The Narwhal -- B.C. taxpayers on the hook for 1.2 billion in mine cleanup costs: chief inspector report
One of those liabilities is the abandoned Tulsequah Chief Mine, which has been contaminating the Taku River watershed for more than 60 years. In this opinion piece, former Taku River guide Patricia Thomson called for cleanup.
February 24, Vancouver Sun — Patricia Thomson: B.C. needs to follow through on its commitment to cleaning up the Tulsequah Chief
Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan called for the EPA to release its analysis of transboundary mines and how they endanger the U.S. He also highlighted the fact that the Tulsequah Chief “continues to spew toxic waste into the river,” and that “the Canadians won’t clean it up.”
March 11, YouTube — Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) at a Senate Environment & Public Works hearing
The threat to U.S. rivers from B.C. is shared by Washington, Idaho, and Montana. This year, more and more people, organizations, lawmakers and Tribes have begun calling for protections for the Skagit River, which flows from B.C. into Washington, and which is threatened by Imperial Metals’ plan to mine in the “donut hole” between protected areas.
February 21, Crosscut — Tribes worry a Canadian mine could poison Washington salmon
February 25, Seattle Times — Opinion: Washington’s rivers, salmon and orcas need protection from Canadian mines
Cutthroat trout have been virtually wiped out in a tributary of the transboundary Elk-Kootenai River that runs through Teck Resources coal mines along the Canada/Montana border. That’s exactly what scientists predicted would happen if Teck was allowed to keep contaminating the river, but B.C. regulators allowed the pollution to continue.
March 8, National Post — Coal miner Teck says it’s baffled by fish collapse downstream of British Columbia mines
This insightful piece from two scientists delves into the threats mine waste dumps pose to the shared transboundary rivers of the Salmon Coast. Over the past 100 years, more than 300 mine waste dumps worldwide have failed — but even when they don’t fail, they harm people, wildlife, fish and rivers.
February 24, The Conversation — Mine waste dams threaten the environment even when they don’t fail
In fact, spurred by the 2019 failure of the Brumadinho mine waste dump in Brazil, which killed hundreds of people, the world’s first global database of mine waste dumps went live in January.
January 24, Mining.com — Global database of tailings dams goes live
In spite of those efforts, mine waste dump reviews are still weak, and toxic mine waste storage practices have not changed in the last 100 years, according to a study from the Responsible Mining Foundation.
April 7, Mining.com — Miners’ response to Brazil’s dam disaster still weak — report
Here on the border between Canada and the United States, there’s a clear solution for preventing and resolving disputes over shared waters: the International Joint Commission--as a new book makes clear about this body that was created by the U.S.-Canada Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.
April 3, Spartan Newsroom — The secret savior of U.S. and Canada’s shared waters isn’t one person
Meanwhile, this Mining.com article used the Galore Creek mining project, planned for the Stikine River watershed, as a case study of poor decision-making, oversights, and underestimated risk.
April 10, Mining.com — Exploding costs: An analysis of Galore Creek
The struggle of the Wet’suwet’en land protectors is a stark portrayal of the colonialist, force-heavy policies supporting extractive industries that fail to honor Indigenous rights and title, in spite of B.C.’s ostensible commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. On April 30, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and B.C. and Canadian governments jointly announced their new MOU to implement Wet’suwet’en rights and title, though the MOU reportedly doesn’t specifically address the pipeline issue.
February 13, Washington Post — Opinion: A pipeline offers a stark reminder of Canada’s ongoing colonialism
February 7, The Conversation — Wet’suwet’en: Why are Indigenous rights being defined by an energy corporation?
February 17, Policy Options — The breathtaking hypocrisy of the howls for rule of law
May 4, The Canadian Press - Wet’suwet’en agree to deal with government over rights and title
The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing bad practices and risks within transboundary mines. Miners say Teck Coal punishes miners who speak out about risks and shortcomings, including risks to their own health.
March 20, The Narwhal — B.C. mine workers fear Teck not taking adequate precautions against coronavirus
According to medical professionals, work camps and other resource extraction operations in B.C. pose huge risks to rural communities and the hundreds of people they confine in small spaces during the COVID-19 crisis. The Tahltan Nation closed their borders to protect the health of community members; however, miners continue to travel in and out of the work camps at Red Chris and Brucejack mines in Tahltan Territory.
March 31, The Narwhal -- Former chief medical officer urges B.C. to shut industrial work camps during coronavirus pandemic
April 23, Terrace Standard - Tahltan ask visitors to stay away from their territory during COVID-19
Finally, on May 1, 22 scientists and policy experts from multiple U.S. states and both sides of the international U.S./Canada border published a letter in the prestigious, peer-reviewed journal “Science.” The letter calls on the U.S. and Canadian federal governments to invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty and address the fact that B.C. mine assessments are not adequately based on defensible science nor adequately protect U.S.-B.C. transboundary waters from mining pollution.
May 1, KINY — International letter urges Canada, U.S. to jointly address British Columbia transboundary mining pollution
April 28, University of Montana — UM Researchers urge governments to address transboundary mining pollution
May 4, The Western News — Resisting status as ‘Canada’s settling pond’
As always, thank you for reading and please let me know if you have any questions regarding this issue! We are sending you all our best in these trying times.
Jill Weitz, Salmon Beyond Borders director
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, united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
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