Alaska raises concerns with British Columbia's mining oversight after audit

May 5, 2016

A report from British Columbia’s auditor general that concluded the province’s compliance and enforcement actions in the mining sector are not adequate to protect the environment, has raised concerns of the Alaskan government which has signed a pact to co-operate on mine development across the British Columbia-Alaska border.

The Globe and Mail reported that Alaska Lieutenant-Governor Byron Mallott said his government will demand assurances that British Columbia is taking to meet the recommendations of the report that include a call for the creation of an independent agency to take over regulation of the mining industry because of lax enforcement and compliance.

“The Office of the Auditor-General’s report is troubling and a wake-up call to the B.C. government that important changes must occur,” Mallott, who has led the state government’s negotiations with British Columbia on the issue of mining, said in a statement.

British Columbia Auditor-General Carol Bellringer concluded that the B.C. government has put its economic interest in promoting the mining industry ahead of environmental regulation: “We found almost every one of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program … were not met,” she wrote.

Alaskan officials have raised concerns over how over mining development in British Columbia will impact rivers, watersheds and fisheries that are downstream of B.C. mining projects. Their concerns were elevated after the August, 2014, environmental disaster that occurred when the tailings-pond dam at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine near Williams Lake breached, spilling 25 million cubic metres of waste water into nearby water systems and lakes in central British Columbia.

To ease Alaska’s concerns, Bennett and Mallott drafted a memorandum of understanding last November that promised to protect transborder waterways. The Auditor-General’s damning report comes in the midst of negotiations to turn that tentative pact into a binding agreement, reported The Globe and Mail

“It’s going to concern Alaska,” Bennett said. “I have always recognized that mining in B.C. is a positive thing for us in terms of the jobs and the tax revenues and First Nations get revenue-sharing. It’s all good for us, but when you are downstream in Alaska, you don’t stand to gain anything from mining in B.C., so we have to go the extra mile for Alaska.”

One of the thorny border issues is the Tulsequah Chief mine that has been leaking effluent into a tributary of the Taku River. Mr. Bennett toured the mine site near the border with Alaskan officials last year. He said he was shocked by the “state of disrepair” he found, but he said the mine’s owner, Chieftain Metals Corp., is working toward compliance despite its financial troubles.

Premier Christy Clark, responding to questions in the House on Wednesday, said her government is adopting change, including higher penalties, new guidelines for engineers and a new regime for compliance and enforcement.“

One of the most important things that we have to do at this juncture,” she said, “in order to protect mining jobs and mines in British Columbia, is ensure that we protect the reputation that British Columbia has established as one of the best, safest, most environmentally sound mining industries in the world.”

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