Knowles reports mixed results with Clinton administration

Posted: Tuesday, February 29, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles took some time away from a National Governors' Association conference in Washington, D.C., to meet with the head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency about a dispute over the Red Dog Mine near Kotzebue.

Knowles says he came away from Monday's talks with Carol Browner hopeful that they can work through the issues.

But he wasn't so successful with the Clinton administration over another environmental issue: a potential ban by the U.S. Forest Service on logging in roadless areas of the Tongass and Chugach national forests.

Red Dog's operator, Cominco, wants to increase the production of lead and zinc ore at the mine, but has to add a diesel generator to produce more electricity.

The EPA has overturned a permit for the generator issued by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Alaska has the authority under the federal Clean Air Act to make permit decisions. It appealed that decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The EPA wants Cominco to install some costly anti-pollution equipment that the state thinks is unnecessary. It would add a million dollars a year to the mine's operating costs, officials said.

The mine's diesel generator falls within federal guidelines and raises no health-related issues, the governor said.

But EPA officials said there was no compelling evidence to exempt the equipment from its standards.

Browner said after Monday's meeting, however, that she would look into the situation more closely.

Knowles had less luck with the Clinton administration's proposed roadless policy, which he called a ''double cross'' because it would supersede years of work to develop a new 10-year management plan for the Tongass National Forest. That would mean even further reductions in logging and related jobs around Alaska's Southeast.

There is virtually no logging now in the Chugach, and so the roadless policy would have a minimal affect there.

Knowles said his administration may file a lawsuit unless the Tongass and the Chugach are excluded from a final policy, due out late this year.

Knowles said that he and other Western governors criticized the forest road policy during a meeting with top Agriculture Department and Forest Service officials. ''They heard us,'' he said. ''It is something we are going to continue to follow.''

Knowles hedged when asked whether he would support fellow Democrat Al Gore for president if the Tongass is not exempted.

''I am very nervous about the political evolution of issues decided in a political year,'' he said. ''People always want to earn their environmental stripes in Alaska.''

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