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Alaska’s Relationship of Convenience with EPA

Ever had a boss so hard to read you didn’t know if you were going to be fired or promoted? Mixed messages on a daily basis? It’s horrible. How are you supposed know what to do?

A relationship in which you don’t know if you’ll be hit or hugged is much worse. “Can’t you just be a jerk all the time? It would make things so much easier.”

It’s the back and forth, the uncertainty that make these situations unbearable.

That’s why I feel bad for the folks at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Oh, before you start calling me a bunny hugger, hear me out.

When nine Native tribes, a Native corporation and a multitude of fishing groups pleaded with the EPA to do a clean water assessment of the proposed Pebble mine, the EPA accepted. A study began.

The Legislature had appropriated $750,000 for a similar study. The governor had even signed off on it, although not a dime was ever spent. No study. No science.

Then came Gov. Sean Parnell, his attorney general, a plethora of industry hacks and the KGOP sock puppets crying foul. Just who does the EPA think it is? Big government! Attorney General Michael Geraghty said the EPA was “unlawfully preemptive, premature, arbitrary, capricious and vague.” Strangely (and not for the first time), he referred to the prospect of a Pebble mine as “hypothetical.”

I’d say the idea that Gov. Parnell is working for Alaskans rather than the mine promoters is a lot more “hypothetical.”

But then “Get out, EPA!” and “Go away, EPA!” quickly morphed into “Help, EPA! Come on over STAT!”

The Red Devil mercury mine is a disaster — so much so that the governor directed his attorney general to ask the EPA to list it as a super-polluted superfund site.

EPA staffers are wearing neck braces from the whiplash.

The mine is on the Kuskokwim River and Red Devil Creek. In 1933, a 10-year-old boy discovered the deposit while berry picking.

Although once one of the largest mercury mines in the country — it produced 2.75 million pounds of liquid mercury — no investigation has been able to uncover its current ownership. The open pit mine has been closed since 1971, the profiteers long gone.

Yes, the profits of this public resource were privatized to corporations, while the contamination and cleanup was socialized to taxpayers — to the tune of $10 million in public funds over the past 25 years.

When the mine permits were declared “Abandoned and Void” in 1987, the federal Bureau of Land Management took over. The agency has been remediating and testing fish and toxin levels. Multiple meetings in villages and in Anchorage were conducted in 2009 to discuss the health effects.

See, the mine tailings weren’t left in very good shape and the soil around them contains processing chemicals and highly toxic PCBs. Also found: “extremely elevated amounts” of arsenic, antimony and 52,000 times the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s standard for mercury.

Last year the state warned local women and children about consuming pike and burbot. They offered “free mercury testing” for females on the middle Kuskokwim and advised women and children to eat salmon.

“Mercury is a toxin that, at high levels, can damage the brain and other organs. Because they are still developing, young children and fetuses (unborn babies) are more sensitive to mercury than adults.”

According to the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, there are 6,830 abandoned hard rock mines in Alaska. For most of them, including Red Devil, no “financially viable responsible parties” are known.

Our governor, in his spastic, whiplash messaging toward the federal government, is getting a bit embarrassing. On the one hand, he wants the Feds to get out of state business when it comes to projects he supports — like the extremely controversial Pebble mine. On the other hand, he snaps his fingers and demands the federal government come clean up toxic tailings of mines long abandoned. (Oh, and please, federal government, come manage development on our coasts too.)

What Alaskans need is a boss with principles he can apply two days in a row. A non-schizophrenic leader who works well with the federal government and recognizes that if the Feds are good enough to stick with the bill for cleaning up toxic abandoned mines, they ought to be able to offer an assessment of whether a proposed mine at the headwaters of the largest wild salmon run on the planet is a future Red Devil.

By the way, Pebble fans may want to note that 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, 10 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens, and it occurred in the Bristol Bay watershed, not far from the site of the proposed Pebble mine.

You’d think an Alaska governor would remember the catastrophic 1912 eruption of Mount Katmai and Novarupta, and thank the EPA for considering the consequences of another one for a Pebble mine.




10 Responses to “Alaska’s Relationship of Convenience with EPA”
  1. NickWI says:

    Not only should the rE Devil mine be cleaned up but Pebble mine Should not be developed. have the state turn the area into a state park and turn the federal lands near Bristol Bay including the bay itself into a national monument. Jobs are created to staff and monitoir the monument and park, and people will come to enjoy the scenery and take ion the local flavor. and yes Parnell is a giant douchnozzle. Kinda a prerequisite to be a repoublican these days though.

  2. Zach Roberts says:

    Sounds like a couple of my past relationships.

  3. UgaVic says:

    We as a state must get our priorities set up when it comes to mining of any type. I still think, although I will admit it is an extremely hard road to fight, we should be going after our legislate to update everything to do with mining in our state.

    Looking at the tax rates paid, we as a user of a renewable resource (fish processor) pay a higher rate of state tax on the product than does those who are using a non-renewable (mining), how does THAT make sense?

    Then let us look at the premitting process (be ‘open’ for business and development but with a set of darn strict rules/regualtions/laws). I will not even start on this as many of us already know what a mess that is, but do keep helping to put pressure on the state to look at the possibility of earthquakes at Pebble and where the ‘fault’ is near or in Lake Iliamna.

    Finally we need to look at our monitoring system and finally how we demand they set aside funds for clean-ups. We need to realize many, if not all, end up in some form of bankruptcy or buy out and leaves the clean-up to the feds or public, so we need to set up a system that prevents the walking away.

    There are a number of sites around our state, on tribal, state and other lands that have been polluted in a variety of ways, from mining to the military and we need to ‘get real’ about how to deal with it!!

    There is just too much as stake, no matter the location or resource, in our state to not have a sensible program on how to deal with all parts of this industry!

  4. Zyxomma says:

    Alaska, you are in serious need of a new governor, one who is aware of the history of the last century. Private Zero (he’s not worthy of the title Captain, and he loves him some private industry) is failing you in ways large and small. What’s his motto? All corporations are equal, but some are more equal than others, or something to that effect. There should never be a Pebble Mine. Water is far more precious than gold.

    • Alaska Pi says:

      America is in serious need of new mining law- ours is patterned on the fed…
      What was to help settle the west in 1872 is way past its sell-by date now

      • Zyxomma says:

        I could not agree more. I would extend that sentiment beyond mining to ALL extractive industries. “Clean up your room!” says the strict mother. “Clean up your mess for the sake of the future of humanity and all other life forms!” should be the mantra for all.

  5. Alaska Pi says:

    I see this somewhat differently than Shannyn but think we agree on what she rightly pegs as “Alaska’s Relationship of Convenience with EPA”
    Red Devil is a mess and BLM has lagged on cleanup in important ways since it took over.
    DEC’s 2009 report raises very important issues.
    This governor says he wants EPA involved to do the job properly. there is some sense to this here in that much of the mine’s history predates statehood and is on lands which were never conveyed to the state- the mess occurred on the federal watch.
    What he doesn’t say is that he only wants the EPA involved if it is federal land.
    “Hypothetical” mines like Pebble, on state land, are supposed to be off limits as far as he is concerned, even when those hypothetical mines can and will affect “navigable waters” – the oversight of which belongs to the Fed by law, including that dadgum EPA he thinks can take care of things properly, no he doesn’t, yes, he does, oh for crying out loud Gov!
    In some ways it is all worse than whiplash.

    Side note- the Red Devil lands are supposedly due to be conveyed under ANSCA to Calista and Kuskokwim when cleanup is done.

    • mike from iowa says:

      Contamination… worries. I can write Romneydon’tcare’s reaction to the DEC’s report. First, let’s look at Mercury. Since Mercury is produced by Ford Motor Co. and Ford didn’t receive a taxpayer funded bailout,we will keep big gov’t out of Mercury. Next up is antimony or as we wealthy guys like to accuse Dems of being-anti-money. Nuff said. Arsenic had a popular play made in its honor(Arsenic and Old Lace) so it nust be harmless. And besides if the levels of pollutants is rilly that bad,we will do what we always do and lower the standards of toxicity to more acceptable(ie industry approved) levels. Like I said,no worries.

      • Alaska Pi says:

        I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants…
        So close to the sweep-it-under-the-slick-hairdo routine as to be sadly close to truth

  6. mike from iowa says:

    I hear the feds are gonna recognize cancer caused by Ground Zero. Stuffs gonna hit the fan when rwnj find out. I think they are still denying Agent Orange and that Obama is rilly American born and bred. Since it wuz nutters that allowed the Superfund Tax to sunset,they should be charged with cleaning up korporate Amerika’s environmental disasters.Aren’t they always screaming about personal responsibility? Good job,Shannyn. Don’t ever stop reminding Alaskan’s and everyone else whose in it for the money.

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