Opinion: The old bait and switch

The transboundary Bi-lateral Technical Work Group ended before it really began.

  • By Robert Sanderson Jr. and Guy Archibald
  • Sunday, March 7, 2021 11:30am
  • Opinion

“Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refugee of scoundrels: it is a way of avoiding debate by claiming the matter already settled.” — Michael Crichton.

The transboundary Bi-lateral Technical Work Group ended before it really began. The workgroup, absent any participation by citizens, tribes or the fishing and tourism industry recently reached a consensus behind closed doors; “data has not shown a measurable impact to Alaskan waters from historical mining activities in B.C.” The work group is to be disbanded before any of the dozen or so large mines are even built. Despite attempting to prove a negative and despite that the report itself documents clear evidence that the Tulsequah Chief Mine on the Taku is having detectable impacts on the river, there is nothing to worry about. For comparison, the Tulsequah Chief processed 1,100 tons per day over 60 years ago. The fully certified, but yet-to-be-built, KSM Mine on the Unuk River plans to process 130,000 tons per day.

And despite the clear data that the salmon in these rivers are not doing well.

The Bi-lateral Work Group will be terminated because it reached its true goal — to justify massive mining projects in these watersheds. It was never about ensuring the environmental, cultural and existing economic values of the transboundary rivers were protected.

The work group started with citizen concern and pressure because up to that point, Alaska was turning a blind eye to the threats upstream. When Alaska and British Columbia could no longer ignore the public outcry, they offered up a weak unenforceable agreement. A spoonful of sugar without the medicine. Citizens and tribes were then completely shut out of the process. There has not been a single public meeting under the Dunleavy administration.

The existence of the agreement did serve its purpose to keep the U.S. State Department and International Joint commission at arm’s length by stating “hey, we got this covered,” in order to avoid national and international attention on international waters. A gentleman’s agreement between two scoundrels.

Let’s be clear, on the BC side the Harper government looks to Northwest BC as an environmental sacrifice zone to justify $736 million dollars spent building the NW Transmission line to be paid back by increased mining. The Alaska side has shown it will do nothing to impede the mining industry even in Bristol Bay because we are now “open for business” and where attendance to the Alaska Miners Association’s annual lobby fest in Anchorage counts as training credits for ADEC staff.

The two governments, one provincial, one state, reached a consensus; ‘nothing to see here’.

As Michael Crichton, author and MD from Harvard Medical School pointed out “consensus is the business of politics…there is no such thing as consensus science. If it is consensus it is not science.”

• Robert Sanderson Jr. is chairman of the Southeast Indigenous Transboundary Commission. Guy Archibald is staff scientist for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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