“We pursue a higher standard.” That’s the slogan of Coeur Alaska, owner/operator of Kensington Mine. Coeur’s “higher standard” recently led to them settling with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over 200 wastewater discharge violations at Kensington from 2015.Additional violations included unauthorized discharge of acid rock drainage into Lower Slate Lake, multiple effluent sampling violations and failure to repair a fuel storage containment structure for over two years, among others.
The EPA press release cited violations that can harm fish, smother eggs, erode stream banks and result in stream bank failure. Coeur settled for $534,500 — fines that amount to the “cost of doing business.” Instead of requiring corrective action, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation simply changed Coeur’s permit to let them discharge acid rock drainage into Lower Slate Lake.
The problem lies not only with Coeur, but with state and federal regulatory processes that privilege mines over communities, salmon habitat and clean water. Mine discharge and waste management permits are set up to allow mines and exploration companies to legally pollute our waters, not to protect water quality. Look at the waste management permit ADEC recently issued to Constantine-Palmer.
At the very least, ADEC should require wastewater discharge to meet state water quality standards. Instead, they set a “trigger limit” allowing Constantine to discharge water with elevated levels of heavy metals like copper and aluminum that harm salmon and human health. Constantine’s permit allows 70 micrograms of copper per liter. State water quality standards allow only 11.4. There is no responsible way to operate a sulfide mine in salmon habitat.
— Shannon Donahue
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