VICTORIA - British Columbia's Energy Minister Bill Bennett is in Alaska to soothe concerns about the province's mining industry, which he says is perceived by many Alaskans as a threat to their environment and salmon fishery.
Bennett will address the annual Alaska Miners Association convention in Anchorage, and meet with state officials, commercial and sport fishing organizations and aboriginal groups during his two-day visit.
"There is this impression in some parts of Alaska that our environmental standards, compliance and enforcement efforts are not as strong as theirs," Bennett said in an interview. "My purpose in going up there ... is to talk to folks about how our process actually works. How do you get a mine permitted in B.C."
The minister will be accompanied on his trip by Chad Day, the Tahltan Central Council president, along with senior government environment and energy officials.
Bennett said concerns about B.C.'s plans to expand its mining interests in the province's north have heightened since last summer's massive tailings pond failure at the Mount Polley mine in the central Interior.
"All of a sudden we have now a potential issue with Alaska given that many of these (mine) projects are located in B.C. watersheds that ultimately flow into Alaska watersheds," Bennett said. "They are hearing these stories about B.C.'s standards and they are hearing about Mount Polley."
Bennett is scheduled to give a presentation Wednesday at the mining convention on the B.C. government's response to the tailings failure at Mount Polley.
He said he is also meeting with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican who has expressed concerns about the province's mining industry.
Aboriginal groups in Alaska have called for municipalities and organizations there to register concerns about B.C. mining issues and their potential impact in Alaska.
"In a nutshell, the British Columbian government doesn't give a damn about us over here," said aboriginal leader Rob Sanderson Jr., in a recent statement. He is second vice-president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
"British Columbia is up for sale to the highest bidder," Sanderson said. "This is an issue that needs to be dealt with in (Washington) D.C. We live in the most pristine waters in the world, and we share that water with Canada … for Canada to have no regard for us here in Southeast Alaska is a shame."
Bennett said he needs to go to Alaska to build a stronger relationship with the northern neighbour.
"It's a good time for us to go up there and make sure they understand that we do care," he said.