Red Dog is one of America's largest polluters according to the US EPA Toxic Release Inventories. A toxic pipeline to the Chukchi Sea isn't a great option considering the lack of biological and scientific information; including hunting, fishing and gathering impacts to indigenous peoples and migratory animals (caribou, sea mammals, fish, shellfish, plankton, whales, birds) Food Security is a growing issue for all communities on Earth as climate change and bioengineering of industrial seafood and mainland crops are proving to be unsustainable and miserably vulnerable to rapidly changing environmental conditions, including adaptive pathogens.-----
Red Dog gets setback over discharge permit
Published: March 27th, 2010 04:13 PM
Last Modified: March 27th, 2010 04:13 PM
Natives in two villages have won a battle against the world's largest zinc mine over a permit they said would have polluted a fish stream that provides food and drinking water.
The Native villages of Kivalina and Point Hope challenged the Red Dog Mine's new water-pollution-discharge permit, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has withdrawn features of the permit of concern to the villagers. The federal permit would have allowed more cyanide, zinc, selenium, lead and total dissolved solids into the Wulik River than is currently allowed, villagers said.
Enoch Adams Jr., vice president of the Native Village of Kivalina, has called the permit a "license to pollute." It was to become effective March 1.
The mining company, Teck Alaska, believed the permit worked on by the state and the EPA was sound, Jim Kulas, the company's environmental and public affairs manager, said Friday. If the permit issues can't be resolved by October, plans to shut down the mining until they are, he said.
Stopping production at the zinc, lead and silver mine near Kotzebue would have implications for Native firms, local governments and employees relying on Red Dog dollars. The mine is running out of ore in its main pit and needs federal permission to begin excavating a second pit that could keep the mine going for another 20 years.
Red Dog has struggled with its water discharges since starting up two decades ago. The mine has routinely violated some criteria within its federal water-pollution-discharge permit, resulting in fines and lawsuits. The new permit would legalize the discharges that have been problematic.
The Native villages say it's illegal for the EPA to relax the mine's previous permit.
Federal and state regulators said the changes would be OK because the mine's pollution discharges are not harmful and fish populations downstream of Red Dog have actually grown because the discharges contain a less harmful pollutants than the natural flow of water before the mine was built. The new permit would not increase the amount of pollution from the mine, they say.
After a review, the EPA decided March 17 that Teck Alaska will have to comply with more stringent levels under its 1998 permit. The agency told Mining News that it could restore the withdrawn portions of the new permit once better justification of them is developed.
Adams of Kivilina said, "Our village wants economic development but at the same time we demand that EPA protect our subsistence and clean water rights."
"The only thing we want is to be able to drink our water with some peace of mind ... and not wonder what is in the fish," he said.
Lawyer Brent Newell with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment in San Francisco, said Red Dog has violated its old permit hundreds of times.
The new permit would have given mine operators even more leeway, he said. Not only would it have allowed more cyanide, zinc, selenium and lead into waters downstream from the mine, but also would have drastically changed the way the mine handles total dissolved solids or wastewater from the mining operation, Newell said.
Instead of measuring total dissolved solids at the end of the pipe where the waste enters the Wulik River, Teck Alaska would have been allowed a four-mile "mixing zone" to test for pollution once it was diluted, he said.
That would have allowed high levels of dissolved solids to enter the river, an important spawning ground for fish, Newell said.
"That is really crazy," Adams said.
In 2008, five Kivalina residents reached a settlement with Teck Alaska after a lengthy court fight that established over 800 violations of the federal Clean Water Act for discharging mine waste into the Wulik River, Newell said.
The village is about 45 miles downstream from the mine.
The settlement requires Teck to either build a pipeline to discharge treated mining waste into the Chukchi Sea, instead of the river, or pay a multimillion-dollar fine.
Adams said no one wants to shut down the mine.
"The only thing that we want is for them to build the pipeline," Adams said. "We just want them to be responsible."
support for mine
At least nine organizations in the Northwest Arctic have passed resolutions in support of new permits to allow Red Dog's expansion, including the Northwest Arctic Borough and tribal governments in Noorvik, Kiana, Kotzebue and Deering.
The mine is a the major source of private tax dollars and jobs in the region.
Teck still needs to obtain a wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers before it can begin excavation in the new ore deposit.
The Anchorage Daily News/adn.com contributed to this article.