My Turn: Red Dog Mine lawsuit protects jobs

Posted: Friday, August 23, 2002

Alaskans want good jobs developing Alaska's ample natural resources and at the same time, demand protection of our clean air and water. The state of Alaska and the operators of the world's largest zinc mine - Red Dog near Kotzebue - reached that careful balance when the state issued an air quality permit to allow an expansion of the mine.

But the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the state's approval. Their decision defied logic and - we believe - the law, by demanding the mine spend millions of dollars to achieve less environmental protection.

Once again, my administration has no choice but to stand up for Alaskans. That's why we're pressing this irresponsible decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At stake in this case is Alaska's ability to protect our air quality through common sense permitting. The larger issue is protection of Alaska's state sovereignty and the rights of individual Alaskans against misguided federal mandates.

The Red Dog Mine is a proud example of a regional Native corporation - NANA - working with a private company and government to create hundreds of quality jobs for Alaskans.

The mine is the region's largest employer, providing 25 percent of the area's total wage base and boasts a 60 percent Native shareholder hire rate.

Until last year, Red Dog had been relying on power from six diesel generators to produce 1.1 million tons of zinc a year. When it needed more power to increase production, it sought a permit to ramp up an existing generator and add a seventh. To get that permit, the federal Clean Air Act required the mine to install controls to minimize emissions of nitrogen oxides.

The EPA demanded a new technology untried in Arctic conditions that costs up to $10 million to install and up to $1.5 million more a year to operate.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation allowed the mine to install a less expensive, low nitrogen oxide technology on the new generators, if it also retrofitted all the other generators. This cost $2.7 million and reduced the mine's overall nitrogen oxide emissions tons more than the EPA's plan.

You'd think a less expensive and more proven technology that produces better results would be a no-brainer. It wasn't.

After months of trying to negotiate a reasonable solution, including my meeting personally with two EPA administrators, I had no choice but to go court. When the Ninth Circuit upheld the EPA's position earlier this month, I directed our attorney general to press the case all the way to the nation's highest court.

When EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman was in Alaska last week, we hand-delivered a request that she drop the suit and negotiate a reasonable settlement.

Protecting mining jobs is just one example where my administration has been quick to stand up for Alaskans against senseless federal mandates.

We have taken federal agencies to court to stop penalizing Alaska fishermen in the Stellar sea lion controversy.

We fought for timber jobs with a lawsuit against the Forest Service's "roadless" rule.

We've gone to the legal mat to ensure Alaskans' access to historic roads and trails.

We are seeking state title to submerged lands and navigable waters in Glacier Bay National Park and the Tongass and vigorously pursued a legal challenge to ownership of submerged lands within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Just as we're doing with the Red Dog Mine, when it comes protecting jobs and our environment, my administration will fight every federal action against Alaska's working families.



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