WASHINGTON — Alaska Native and environmental groups on Monday petitioned the Interior Secretary to launch a formal investigation into whether pollution from mines in British Columbia is causing problems for wildlife across the border in Southeast Alaska.
The groups pointed to a 1971 amendment and several international agreements to argue that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has a duty to launch an investigation into the potential Alaska environmental impacts from six hard-rock mines in British Columbia. And they want the agency to support a joint United States-Canada commission to hash out the issue.
Earthjustice attorney Kenta Tsuda charged the U.S. government with “waiting on the sidelines” as Canadian mine companies barrelled ahead, and Frederick Olsen Jr., chairman of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, called the state of affairs “federal under-reach.”
This isn’t the first time the Interior Department and the Obama administration have heard from Alaskans concerned that pollution from the mines could devastate Southeast Alaska fisheries: The state’s U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young, as well as officials in Gov. Bill Walker’s administration, have all raised the issue with officials from Jewell to Secretary of State John Kerry to White House staff.
But the delegation said pleas for White House officials to raise the issue in recent talks with Canada have gone unheard.
Now, Native organizations, Earthjustice and local environmental groups say a 1971 law focused on protecting threatened and endangered species, along with two international conservation agreements, should prompt action from the Obama administration to protect woodland caribou, grizzly bears and salmon.
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