Coeur Alaska's decision to not go forward with the paste disposal plan was a very bad decision.
The paste disposal plan was negotiated with Coeur and local, regional and national environmental groups, and the resolution resulted in the laying down of all the weapons involved in the conflict of disposing mine waste into Lower Slate Lake. Those weapons are now back on the table.
Some people, including those from Coeur, are saying the Environmental Protection Agency is in some way responsible for Coeur's bad decision because EPA's request for more analysis would delay the opening of the mine. This is not true.
The permitting process, according to EPA, would be finished in weeks, not months. Even if it did take a few months, the Supreme Court decision is several months away, and the paste disposal permit could be ready to go if Coeur did not win the case. Coeur should know that if they do win the case, this does not mean the conflict will be over.
There will soon be a new opportunity for the Sierra Club to deal with a bad Supreme Court decision legislatively when the Bush administration is gone and a new administration is in office. This opportunity is to get the Clean Water Act legislated. The Kensington project could well be a poster child for this legislation.
Regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court decision, the protection of Berners Bay will remain a priority for the Sierra Club and many other environmental groups. The dumping of mine waste into Lower Slate Lake is just not acceptable. An enlarged lake, whose waters are held back by a dam that is subject to a breakdown sometime in the future, that is located next to an earthquake fault, that has toxic metal waste in its sediments and dam building material, is certainly not the least environmentally damaging practical alternative for waste disposal.
Of note is that it has become public that there is acid mine drainage in the Lower Slate Lake area. So much for the argument that the mine waste material is inert.
This acid mine drainage problem has apparently been there for months without Coeur letting the public know about it. So much for transparency.
Whatever the real reason is that made Coeur make its bad decision, perhaps pressure from the mining industry, perhaps pressure from the state, perhaps because accepting the paste permit might have an effect on the Supreme Court decision, Coeur's decision will only result in more ongoing conflict.
Coeur needs to go forward with the paste disposal plan regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court decision, and this is what will get the mine going forward in the fastest possible time.
Chairman, Juneau Group of the Sierra Club
Board, Sierra Club National Forest Issues Team