AME is monitoring and strategically engaging with our members, government and community representatives about mineral exploration and development projects and transboundary water quality concerns in Northwest BC. Environmental and community concerns have been raised about transboundary waters that originate in BC and flow into Alaska. In particular, there are several rivers - Stikine, Unuk, Tulsequah and Taku - that are considered transboundary, or shared, waters. Both BC and Alaska recognize the importance and care about these shared rivers that support salmon runs and communities in both jurisdictions. As good neighbours and allies, Canadian mineral explorers and developers understand and respect these concerns. Northwest BC is one of the most biophysically and culturally diverse areas, and importantly has some of the most prospective and strategic mineral development potential in Canada. This region attracts a significant portion of the annual total mineral exploration and development expenditures in BC. Recent developments include the Red Chris Mine, the province’s newest gold and copper mine. In addition there are some very promising mineral exploration projects in the region that have the potential to become operating mines, pending positive investment decisions and extensive environmental permitting processes.
What's really happening
Most of the mineral exploration projects in Northwest BC are early-stage, and have minimal environmental impact. It takes many years of authorized exploration field work to define a project that may eventually have the potential to become a fully permitted mine. Approval to construct, operate and eventually close and reclaim a mine requires extensive planning, scientifically valid technical documentation, and review by numerous regulatory agencies, usually both federal and provincial. A significant responsibility of the proponent is to undertake extensive First Nations engagement and active stakeholder participation, including general public involvement through the environmental assessment (EA) and permitting processes.
However, some regionally based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have incorrectly characterized mineral exploration projects as “mines” and are ignoring relevant factual information. The probability of all the exploration projects being developed into full-scale mines is unlikely, especially all at the same time. These regionally based NGOs are often tied to larger, well-funded NGOs originating in the U.S. that oppose resource developments in general, and are claiming that Alaskan interests have not been considered by Canadian regulatory review processes. In fact, Alaskan and U.S. regulatory agencies have been officially involved in the Canadian EA reviews, and Canadian proponents have also engaged with stakeholders and some Alaskan First Nations (Native Tribes) beyond the official requirements. Another NGO tactic to delay BC mineral explorers is to pressure all levels of government to invoke the International Joint Commission (IJC) to review mineral development in Northwest BC. The IJC is guided by the Boundary Waters Treaty signed by Canada and the United States in 1909. AME believes that the IJC process is not required because the existing permitting and environmental assessment review processes in BC are robust and actively consider and evaluate the potential impacts of projects on all downstream citizens, including Alaskans, where required. Adding another layer of process to an already complex system would be redundant and would only serve to increase costs to governments and proponents and needlessly delay responsible mineral development opportunities in BC and Canada.
What action AME is taking
Last year, AME’s Board of Directors formed a Transboundary Relations Committee. The primary role of this committee is to monitor the external organizations calling for the greater involvement of the U.S. and Canadian federal governments, and to present more balanced and fact-based information about responsible BC mineral exploration and development to governments, communities and AME members. The Government of Alaska and British Columbia have met several times and in late 2015 signed a Memorandum of Understanding that entrenches the opportunity for Alaskan regulatory agencies to participate in reviews of BC projects within transboundary water areas. AME is fully supportive of this commitment made between Alaska and BC. AME will also continue to engage with other Canadian and American governments that seek to promote responsible economic development in western US and Canada.
Action that you or your organization can take
If you have mineral exploration and development interests anywhere in BC that could be considered close to transboundary waters, you are encouraged to contact AME’s Transboundary Relations Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. And specifically for those operating in Northwest BC near shared water bodies, we suggest you let the BC government know that you support their efforts to build local and reasonable approaches with Alaska and that invoking the IJC and unnecessarily involving two federal governments would offer no substantive benefits to anyone. To learn more about the IJC, see http://www.ijc.org/en_/.
Click here for a live and printable version of this issue.