ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to hear an appeal from the state of Alaska that forces the Red Dog mine to use expensive anti-pollution technology for its power generation.
At issue is whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to overrule a state's day-to-day decisions on national environmental rules.
Gov. Frank Murkowski said today he was pleased with the high court's decision to hear the case.
"I think it will hopefully resolve the authority of the state with regard to air quality," Murkowski said. "We're going to get the thing resolved once and for all."
State officials filed a federal lawsuit two years ago after they were unable to reach an agreement with the EPA on clean air rules associated with a new generator at the mine, located 90 miles north of Kotzebue. The state lost in U.S. District Court, and then again in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Teck Cominco Inc., which operates the zinc and lead mine in partnership with NANA Corp., the regional Native corporation, wanted to add a seventh diesel generator.
The company had permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to refit all its generators with a lower-cost system for cutting nitrogen oxide emissions.
But the EPA overruled that, instead mandating a newer "selective catalytic reduction" technology on the new generator. The EPA was not proposing modifications of the other generators.
State officials argued that their plan would cut emissions overall. They said the "selective catalytic reduction" technology was unproven in Arctic conditions and expensive.
But federal officials argued the state's own data showed that the newer technology should have been used.
In the meantime, the company agreed to comply with the EPA order.
The Red Dog Mine is the Northwest Arctic Borough's major economic engine, providing 14 percent of total employment there and a quarter of the region's total wage base.
The Knowles administration, which filed the lawsuit, said the lower court rulings threaten the economic vitality of the area and the ability of states to administer national environmental rules.