Alaska's senators argue with EPA over Coeur action

Tlingit-Haida Central Council says agency's action surprised tribe

Posted: Friday, July 31, 2009

Alaska's U.S. senators in a Wednesday letter explained why they think the Environmental Protection Agency is wrong to say the Kensington gold mine could use more environmental study.

"We are reviewing the letters and we will respond accordingly," EPA press secretary Adora Andy wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.

Kensington owner Coeur Alaska Inc. wants to put its ground-up waste rock, or tailings, in Lower Slate Lake. And it wants to start construction this year. The mine has been held up in environmental litigation since 2006. Politicians and the miners have urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reissue the permit for the tailings plan quickly. Further study would delay the mine's reopening.

The EPA, however, told the Corps in a July 14 letter that the agency preferred the mine store its tailings on land and in paste form. The agency said new information has surfaced that requires the Corps to take another look at upland storage. The tailings plans were last analyzed in 2005. Coeur abandoned the land storage plan last year.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Sen. Mark Begich wrote that the EPA never objected to the Lower Slate Lake tailings plan when it was being considered. And they said the EPA's "new" information isn't so new, but substantially similar to an alternative that was analyzed and found less suitable in 2005, they said.

Tlingit-Haida Central Council President Bill Martin also wrote the EPA on Tuesday complaining that the agency didn't properly consult with the tribe. The tribe's Alaska Natives are depending on the mine for jobs.

Tribal members who met with EPA officials on the topic in Washington, D.C., the day before the agency asked for more studies, weren't told it was coming, Martin's letter says.

Martin asked the EPA administrator to have the U.S. Justice Department investigate whether the regional EPA office had violated the tribe's rights.

Idaho-based Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. owns Coeur Alaska. Kensington is 45 miles northwest of Juneau.

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



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