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State politicians upbraid EPA over mine delay

Murkowski, Begich summon EPA head to Murkowski's office

Posted: Sunday, July 19, 2009

Alaska politicians on Friday castigated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for delaying the Kensington mine.

Republican U.S. Sen. Murkowski sent a statement on Friday titled "Murkowski Decries EPA's Supreme Court End Run." She said she and Democratic Sen. Mark Begich had summoned EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the agency's head and an Obama appointee, to Murkowski's office to explain EPA's actions regarding the Kensington gold mine.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that mine owner Coeur Alaska Inc. can put Kensington mine waste in Lower Slate Lake, politicians and miners have urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hurry up and reissue Coeur's construction permits. They've been suspended in litigation since 2006.

But this week, the EPA asked the Corps of Engineers to go back and look at a plan to store tailings upland. Environmentalists prefer that plan, but Coeur abandoned it last year. Coeur wants to begin work this summer, and EPA estimated a re-evaluation would take eight months.

"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."

Gov. Sarah Palin and Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell issued a statement saying they were "dismayed."

"Honestly, what more is there to be studied?" Palin asked. "This permit has been studied and discussed and litigated to death. It's time to get to work."

Parnell said, "This is frustrating. 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."

The Kensington mine is 45 miles northwest of Juneau. Coeur Alaska is owned by Idaho-based Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp.

Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers has said it will work on reinstating the mine's permits "in the most expedient manner legally permissible," but has not yet responded to EPA's letter.

The Corps on Friday announced a 15-day public notice that started Friday for minor modifications to Coeur's Lower Slate Lake plan. These include an extension on the construction timeline, updates in wetland maps of the area, and a change of the overall footprint to 80.5 acres of fill from 83.4 acres.

The Corps' action doesn't mean it is ignoring EPA's request for an entirely different tailings plan, said spokeswoman Pat Richardson. The agency will respond to that, plus all the comments it receives through Aug. 3.

"With this comment period, we are giving them (EPA) an opportunity - as well as the public and other agencies - to comment in an official way," she said. "We also have their letter on file."

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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