Parnell promises Kensington support at Juneau luncheon

Governor criticizes EPA's call for permit re-evaluation at mine

Posted: Friday, July 31, 2009

The Juneau Chamber of Commerce welcomed Gov. Sean Parnell Thursday like an old friend, even before he gave a ringing endorsement of the Kensington Mine.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Parnell, who took office Sunday as governor following Sarah Palin's resignation, has been saying things Juneauites like to hear regarding his support for the capital city.

That didn't go unnoticed in town. A reader board on the way in from the airport read "Welcome Home Governor Parnell and Cabinet."

The departmental commissioners who make up the governor's cabinet all came to Juneau for a four-hour meeting Wednesday at the governor's official residence.

"Yes, I required everybody to come to the Governor's House for our first cabinet meeting," he said to cheers from the packed luncheon held at the Moose Lodge.

What got even bigger cheers, however, was support for Coeur Alaska's Kensington gold mine.

Parnell criticized a recent request the federal Environmental Protection Agency made asking for a re-evaluation of Kensington's waste disposal plans, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision approving its use of Lower Slate Lake as a disposal site under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

"EPA forfeited its right to delay this project when they failed to comment before," Parnell said.

The mine's 300 or more jobs are needed by Southeast families, he said, and went on to criticize the federal agency's late action.

"The EPA had the full authority to veto the 404 permit at the time and chose not to do so," he said.

Parnell said the EPA's actions go beyond environmental regulation and challenged the Supreme Court's authority.

"If we cannot count on the certainty of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, then we have lost the rule of law," he said.

EPA officials maintain there have been significant changes to what Coeur is proposing, which require both another public comment period and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to modify the 404 permit.

Parnell said that very morning he signed a letter to the Corps seeking reissuance of the disposal permit.

"There is no new information worth considering," Parnell said.

In his letter, Parnell accused the EPA of trying to "undercut the finality and certainty of a Supreme Court ruling."

Kensington "should be open now," Parnell said to cheers from the chamber, also acknowledging the issue is even bigger than just Juneau's mine.

"It undermines who we are as a people," he said. "If it is not this company, it will be another one. Pretty soon it will be us as individuals," he said.

Parnell said allowing Supreme Court decisions to be challenged could make it difficult for Alaska to attract the kind of investment capital needed to provide new jobs.

"If companies cannot have that regulatory certainty of a U.S. Supreme Court finding, then their capital will flee Alaska and not be attracted here," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgeyat 523-2250 or e-mail

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