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Senators Send Letters in Support of Kensington Mine

Dozen Senators Call on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Finish Permitting of Kensington Mine

August 4, 2009


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, on Monday sent two letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urging the agency to quickly complete permitting of the Kensington gold mine in Southeast Alaska.

The first letter detailed the senators’ concerns with recent efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to intercede in the permitting of the mine, despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Corps was the proper permitting agency.

“After nearly two decades of review and legal challenges, it’s time to respect the Supreme Court’s decision and allow this important economic project to move forward,” Murkowski said.

The high court ruled in June that Coeur Alaska had a valid 404 permit from the Corps to dispose of tailings from its Kensington mine in Lower Slate Lake. Despite the court’s ruling, the EPA has insisted the Corps re-evaluate the tailings disposal plan for less environmentally sound alternatives.

“The Army Corps of Engineers now has all the information it needs to finalize the permit for this vital mine in Southeast Alaska,” Begich stated. “Residents of the region have been waiting long enough for the 300 good jobs the Kensington Mine will produce. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has acted, let’s get to work developing this project. I’m confident the Army Corps will do the right thing and issue the final permit within weeks.”

The Murkowski-Begich letter included detailed legal analysis refuting the EPA’s arguments and pointing out factual errors in the agency’s case, including the senators’ opinion that no substantially new or significant information on the mine has surfaced to prompt additional review.

“Because we care about the environment and also the people of Alaska, we found it profoundly distressing to have the EPA suggest yet another tailings disposal option in its letter of July 14, 2009 to you, especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision which specifically recognized the thorough review of alternatives undertaken in the permitting process leading to the Lower Slate Lake Corps 404 tailings permit,” Murkowski and Begich wrote in the letter to the Corps.

“EPA is advocating for a tailings disposal option that is demonstrably worse for the environment in an effort to assert their jurisdiction,” Murkowski said. “I’m particularly concerned with what appears to be an attempt by EPA to circumvent the Supreme Court, which should have the final word.”

A second letter, signed by Murkowski and Begich along with 10 Senate colleagues, similarly called on the Corps to reject any further delay and raised concerns about the potential precedent of allowing EPA to challenge Corps-issued permits.

“We have signed this letter because of the far-reaching implications that decisions related to Kensington Mine could have – not just in Alaska, but throughout the United States. At the heart of the debate is whether a project that has complied with all environmental laws, that has gone out of its way to institute training and local hire of Native Americans, and has withstood years of legal challenge and won in the Supreme Court, can now be killed through additional bureaucratic delays,” the 12 senators wrote.   

The letter was signed by Sens. Murkowski; Begich; James Risch, R-Idaho; Sam Brownback, R-Kansas; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma; John Barrasso, R-Wyoming; Bob Bennett, R-Utah; Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming; John Thune, R-South Dakota; Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.

All that is needed to allow work to resume at the mine is for the Corps to modify an existing construction time period and correct minor discrepancies to the previously authorized permit and plans.

Kensington mine is expected to create more than 300 jobs and provide millions of dollars in taxes and other revenue to the Juneau area.


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