After extensive research, I would like to share my findings about the impact of mining on the communities, environment and wildlife of Alaska.
Bear in mind Sarah Palin's famous mantra: "We can safely and responsibly develop Alaska's resources."
Red Dog Mine
Red Dog, a subsidiary of Pebble, was an environmental battleground even before it opened in 1989.
From 2000 through 2006, the mine produced an estimated $6 billion worth of zinc, lead and silver -- about 80 percent of the value of all mine output in Alaska.
The mine has faced permitting troubles related to its land, air and water discharges, and it is being sued by some Kivalina residents over repeated violations of its federal water-discharge permit.
The mine's dust emerged as a serious problem in 2001, when the National Park Service released its study showing high levels of lead, zinc and cadmium in moss and soil along the 24-mile stretch of road that bisects the Cape Krusenstern National Monument.
Further testing showed large amounts of heavy metals had settled on vegetation near the mine and at the state-owned port, according to the mine's study. In some spots, damage to the tundra near Red Dog is visible to the naked eye.
In November 2008, scientists hired by the mine said the dust has hurt mosses and lichens, and perhaps ptarmigan. But, they said, the concentrations of toxic metals in the air, land and water are too low to pose health risks to people who consume wild foods in the region.
State officials approved the mine's 2008 report, but for various reasons -- ranging from technical complaints to allegations of bias -- some residents of nearby villages, environmental groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are questioning its human health finding.
A resident says: "I don't want that dust in my body, we don't pick berries around there. I don't hunt caribou there."
Conclusions about Red Dog's effects on the environment are coming just as Alaskans are beginning to weigh the costs and benefits of developing other rich metallic deposits -- in particular, the massive Pebble copper and gold prospect and the Donlin gold prospect, both in remote stretches of Southwest Alaska.
Sarah Palin Palin praised the Red Dog zinc mine near Kotzebue for bringing jobs to rural Alaska.
In 1997 Coeur/Kensington got a permit to pile it up ("dry stack") and eventually cover it over with vegetation (a solution embraced by environmentalists). But in 2004, it proposed a cheaper method of dumping it into Lower Slate Lake. The regulators (Army Corps of Engineers) said OK. Trouble is, the law says you can't do that- or maybe it does. It depends on whether you call mine waste "fill" or "effluents."
Under the Clean Water Act, "effluents" (or pollutants) are regulated more strictly than "fill." In 2002, the Corps of Engineers decided to change the definition of mine waste rock from the strictly regulated "effluent" to the less regulated "fill." Then it gave Kensington a permit to dump its waste rock (now defined as "fill"), into Lower Slate Lake. SEACC (Southeast Alaska Conservation Council) asked the courts to rule on whether that re-interpretation was consistent with the Clean Water Act. The Ninth Circuit Court said it wasn't. The judges ruled that, "The Corps violated the Clean Water Act by issuing a permit to Coeur Alaska for discharges of slurry from the froth-flotation mill at the Kensington Gold Mine." So the permit was revoked. (From article by Jonathan Anderson, Juneau Empire)
June 27, 2008, Anchorage, Alaska – Governor Sarah Palin today commended the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review a Ninth Circuit Court ruling that had invalidated a federal permit for tailings disposal at the Kensington Mine near Juneau. The state of Alaska and Coeur Alaska had both filed petitions asking the Supreme Court to review the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision, which had essentially forced the company to relocate and redesign the mine’s tailings disposal facility. (Governor's press release)
The Ninth Circuit decision overturned a lower court decision and invalidated the Kensington tailings permit.
On January 12, 2009, Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo was at the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing against an attempt by the mining industry -- supported by President George Bush and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin -- to turn our nation's waterways into industrial waste dumps.
The fate of America's waterways is now in the hands of U.S. Supreme Court justices after arguments were presented in the case of a small Alaskan lake that operators of the Kensington gold mine want to fill -- and kill -- with mine tailings.
"The whole reason Congress passed the Clean Water Act was to stop turning our lakes and rivers into industrial waste dumps," Waldo said. "The Bush administration selected the Kensington Mine to test the limits of the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps had never issued a permit like this before."
Comments by some of the Supreme Court justices:
"Isn't it arguable that the best place for really toxic stuff is at the bottom of a lake so long as it stays there?" asked Justice Antonin Scalia.
Chief Justice John Roberts noted that the fish in question were not an endangered species, adding: "There are millions of them somewhere else, right?"
These are the same justices who overturned the Exxon Valdez initial compensation award, reducing it to just over $500 million.
It's not looking good. The Ninth Circuit decision to revoke Kensington's permit is likely to be overturned by the Supreme Court, setting a dangerous precedent regarding the Clean Water Act, with serious implications regarding future incursions into the environment by Pebble Mine.
Pebble Mine is a massive copper/gold mine proposed in southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay - at the headwaters of the world’s largest remaining wild sockeye salmon fishery. Pebble Mine is backed by mining giant Anglo American and The Northern Dynasty Partnership, which is a wholly-owned Canadian-based subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals Limited.
If developed, the Pebble mine will be the largest mine in North America; with an approximate footprint of 28 square miles, and possibly much more.
Of the predicted 7.5 billion tons of ore, over 99% will become mine waste, which will remain on site forever. The company has proposed to impound the waste behind two dams — the largest in the world — in a seismically active area.
Applications filed by Northern Dinasty Minerals in 2006 indicate that the proposed project will leave permanent landscape features affecting some thirty square miles, including two tailings ponds that will house billions of tons of mine tailings which will include toxic materials.
Direct impacts will result from the approximately 30 square mile footprint of the mine, processing plant, and tailings ponds; more than 60 lineal miles of mainstem streams – plus the adjacent tributaries and wetlands – that will be totally or partially dewatered; the 12.5 square miles or 8,000 acres of disturbance from the access road; port facilities; and, power production and power supply lines. Siltation caused by road-building activities will smother fish food organisms and incubating eggs and alevins. Direct effects associated with the road also include fragmentation of aquatic, riparian, and terrestrial habitats. The company has applied to use 70 million gallons of water per day, nearly three times the amount of water used in the city of Anchorage, from key salmon spawning streams.
Cumulative impacts will include long-term, multi-year losses of fish production and stream productivity. Over time, bridges and culverts in the access road can deteriorate and interfere with juvenile or adult fish migration between important habitats. Dust and silt from the road during the life of the project or leakage from the slurry line may smother fish food organisms and incubating fish eggs and could wash downstream to affect spawning and rearing habitat in Iliamna Lake. In addition, the weight of the roadbed and traffic can be expected to compact the soil and alter the movement of groundwater which could disrupt beach spawning by sockeye salmon in Iliamna Lake.
Any real or perceived impact from the proposed Pebble Mine on Bristol Bay salmon populations will have the probability of destroying the high-value commercial and subsistence fisheries. In addition, it is reasonable to assume that if the proposed Pebble Mine project becomes operational, more mines will be developed and more fish populations and aquatic habitats throughout Bristol Bay may be lost. Forever.
During a news conference in August 2008, Gov. Palin took a public stance regarding the Clean Water Initiative (Proposition 4), a measure intended to protect wild salmon fisheries in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska. Six days before the statewide primary elections, she said, “Let me take my governor’s hat off for just a minute here and tell you, personally, Prop. 4 – I vote no on that. I have all the confidence in the world that we have great, very stringent regulations and policies already in place. We’re going to make sure that mines operate only safely, soundly.”
Please look into Anglo's track record, the predicted environmental impact of this gigantic mine on the area, plus the problems caused by the other two mining projects, Clean Water Act implications, Sarah Palin's attitudes and ask yourself if it's possible to believe the Governor's mantra:
"We can safely and responsibly develop Alaska's resources."
Red Dog: ADN article, Contamination, Red Dog on wiki
Kensington: Juneau Empire article, ADN article, more photos, Supreme Court, Sarah Palin press release
Pebble: Anglo's track record, habitat report, ADN article, Washington Post article, minewatch, Photos, Take action, further background, a personal view
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