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Delegation Letter Details Flaws in EPA’s Position on Kensington Mine

July 28, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, today sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging her agency to clear the way for development of the Kensington gold mine near Juneau, which could create hundreds of jobs for a region hard-hit economically.

The letter detailed the senators’ concerns with EPA’s position on the mine and cited factual and legal flaws in the agency’s arguments opposing Coeur Alaska’s tailings permit for the mine.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Coeur Alaska had a valid 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dispose of tailings from the Kensington mine in LowerSlateLake. Despite the high court’s ruling, the EPA has insisted the Corps re-evaluate the tailings disposal plan for less environmentally sound alternatives.

“The plan approved by the Corps to deal with the tailings is the best alternative for the environment of Alaska and the people of Alaska,” Murkowski said.

“I appreciated the opportunity to meet with the administrator to clear up any lingering concerns EPA may have about the project,” Begich said. “The path forward is clear and it’s time to get Alaskans back to work.”

Alaska’s senators and Rep. Don Young, have been actively seeking to resolve the issue with the EPA in order to let work on the mine resume this summer.

“It’s important that we resolve this issue quickly so that environmentally sound economic development can move forward,” Murkowski said. “This project is vital to the economy of Southeast Alaska.”

The delegation remains concerned that EPA’s request that the Corps consider other options for disposing of the tailings, specifically a paste tailings facility, would cause unnecessary delay and could force Coeur Alaska to abandon the project as uneconomical due to continued legal and permitting roadblocks.

“EPA’s apparent advocacy of a tailing disposal option that is demonstrably worse for the environment, could potentially kill the project, and that appears to be an attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court’s decision on this issue, is of grave concern,” Murkowski and Begich wrote in the letter.  

“This issue is simple, the Supreme Court has issued its ruling, and it’s time to respect that and put Alaskans back to work,” Young said. “Alaskans have been kept out of good jobs for far too long. The time to examine alternatives has passed, and I expect the EPA to respect the Supreme Court’s decision, and their earlier consent to the LowerSlateLake option.”

Depositing the tailings in Lower Slate Lake, as approved by the Corps and upheld by the high court, will result in substantially better habitat for fish and other aquatic life than currently exists, and a long-term wetland loss of less than half an acre. The paste tailings option being promoted by the EPA would result in a long-term wetland loss of 102 acres and an eight-story high tailings pile that would be visible from Lynn Canal, Murkowski and Begich wrote to Jackson.  

“We firmly believe that the facts, as well as the law, continue to support the validity of the existing Corps 404 permit and its finding that the disposal option contained therein is the best option for the environment of Southeast Alaska,” Murkowski and Begich said.

In a separate letter, the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska called on the U.S. Department of Justice to review EPA’s actions regarding the Kensington project. The tribal council raised questions about contradictory statements made by EPA staff regarding disposal options for the mine tailings. The council also complained that it was not consulted by the EPA during review of the mine, as required by presidential executive order. 

Delegation staff met with EPA officials this morning and submitted written comments from the meeting to the Corps.

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