Kensington Mine Delay Troubling
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell today reacted with dismay to news that a regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to slow the permitting process for the Kensington Mine near Juneau.
In a letter dated July 14, Seattle EPA Acting Deputy Regional Administrator Michael Gearheard wrote, "We appreciate the need to move quickly on this matter, particularly in light of the hardships being experienced by many in the native Alaskan community." Nevertheless, Gearheard called for an eight-month review process that "will not allow work to resume this summer."
"Why another delay?" Governor Palin asked. "Our country is mired in the worst recession since the 1930s. We need more jobs, not more bureaucratic review."
"We've been debating and litigating this for years," Lieutenant Governor Parnell said. "The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken decisively in favor of the authority of the Corps to issue this permit. It's time to put those 300 Alaskans back to work - now."
Construction on the mine has been in limbo since 2006, when environmentalists sued over the issue of tailings disposal. On June 22, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers properly permitted the disposal plan, clearing the way for construction. Coeur Alaska, the mine's owner and operator, is ready to hire. Coeur spokesman Tony Ebersole said additional delays could cost the company millions of dollars. Ebersole noted the permit has already been under review for nine years and has faced multiple public comment periods.
"Honestly, what more is there to be considered?" Palin asked. "This permit has been studied and discussed and litigated to death. It's time to get to work."
The state of Alaska joined Coeur in the litigation. State officials intend to do everything possible to expedite the issuance of this last required permit.
"This is frustrating," Parnell said. "Once the Supreme Court speaks it's supposed to be 'game over.' We thought we were in the end zone, but the Seattle EPA office is trying to move the goalposts."
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also decried the Environmental Protection Agency's request for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to re-evaluate the Kensington mine project.
In a prepared statement Murkowksi said, "The Supreme Court issued a clear decision on the validity of Coeur Alaska's permits for Kensington mine," Murkowski said. "EPA's letter appears to be an attempt to do an end run around the Supreme Court."
The Slate Lake disposal option was first developed in cooperation with the Clinton-era EPA. The Corps issued a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit to the project in 2002. Environmental groups sued Coeur in 2006, claiming the mine's owners should have applied for a permit from the EPA.
Murkowski said, "EPA was part of the federal government's defense of the validity of the Corps' CWA Section 404 permit. At no time in the development of the proposal during the Clinton administration, during the Bush administration when the suit was filed, or during the Obama administration while the high court's decision was pending, did the EPA object to the Slate Lake disposal plan."
While the Kensington tailings permit remains valid, the Corps is required to reapprove an accompanying construction timetable before work at the mine can resume. The Corps is issuing notice of a 15-day public comment period regarding the construction timetable and a minor modification to the construction footprint. Murkowski said she appreciates the Corps acting responsibly to avoid further unnecessary delay in the opening of the mine.
Murkowski said, "Here we have a case where the highest court in the land has ruled and EPA is attempting to undermine its decision," Murkowski said. "We believe EPA's letter is factually and legally flawed, and I will express the depths of my displeasure when I meet with Administrator Jackson."
At the request of Sens. Murkowski and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will come to Murkowski's office next week to meet with them and attempt to explain EPA's actions on this issue.
Kensington is expected to provide 300 jobs and millions of dollars in taxes to the economy of Southeast Alaska.