EPA standing ground regarding Kensington mine
Alaska's senators called on the head of the U.S. Environmental Agency to answer for the agency's actions regarding the Kensington gold mine this week.
Robert Dillon, a Senate energy staffer who works for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, characterized the meeting as "congenial but direct."
"Administrator (Lisa) Jackson was not willing to concede any ground during the meeting," he said. "She defended her people."
Republican Murkowski and Democratic Sen. Mark Begich are concerned that the EPA will wrongly delay the opening of Coeur Alaska Inc.'s Juneau-area mine.
That's ever since Michael Gearheard, an official at EPA's regional office in Seattle, sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on July 14. He said that Kensington's ground-up waste rock, or tailings, might best be stored upland instead of in a lake, and that he believed the Corps was legally required to re-evaluate the disposal options. He estimated this would take about eight months.
According to Gearheard, an acting deputy regional administrator, the letter was vetted at high levels and part of a "national conversation" within the agency before it was sent.
Since the mine won its U.S. Supreme Court case to dump tailings in Lower Slate Lake, Coeur asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hurry up and re-issue its permit so construction could restart this summer. The mine has been on hold since 2006.
The senators see EPA's call for the Corps to re-evaluate the alternatives - and its preference of upland storage for Coeur's tailings - as a dangerous and costly delay for an economically important project.
"The EPA's actions will open the door to another round of multiyear legal challenges that could effectively bury this project for good," Murkowski said.
Murkowski and Begich told Jackson on Thursday they believed the EPA had gotten its facts wrong. They will follow up with a letter detailing their arguments, Dillon said.
EPA press secretary Adora Andy said in an e-mail that the Thursday meeting was a "good exchange."
"EPA is committed to working with the Corps, the state of Alaska, and Coeur Alaska to ensure that the permitting process is not delayed and that an environmentally effective mining operation can proceed as quickly as possible," Andy said.
Tony Ebersole, spokesman for Idaho-based parent company Coeur d'Alene Mines Inc., said he had no comment about Thursday's meeting.
The Corps of Engineers' Anchorage office last week opened a 15-day public comment period on minor changes to Coeur's Lower Slate Lake construction permit, but has not yet responded to EPA's letter.
The Kensington mine is 45 miles northwest of Juneau and expected to employ 200 well-paid workers when construction is complete.