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Alaskans have vested interest in protecting environment

Posted: Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Why is it that when anyone in Alaska raises environmental concerns they are immediately branded as some kind of left-wing environmentalist radical? Can't the citizens of this state have a legitimate and vested interest in its environment without being branded as a radical? Even our Democratic Party has sold out with former governor Tony Knowles openly promoting oil development in ANWR and putting financial interests over the pollution resulting from Red Dog Mine.

The state's dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the Red Dog Mine arose about three years ago when the EPA disagreed with a permit proposed by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation specifying pollution control technology for the Red Dog Mine.

Teck Cominco Inc., which operates the Red Dog Mine in partnership with Kotzebue-based NANA Regional Corporation, wanted to add a seventh diesel generator. The company had permission from ADEC to refit all its generators with a lower-cost system for cutting certain emissions. But the EPA overruled that, instead mandating a newer "selective catalytic reduction" technology on the new generator.

ADEC's lower cost pollution control system is allegedly only one-third as effective as the system endorsed by the EPA. However, state officials claimed that their plan would cut emissions overall. Moreover, state officials claimed the "selective catalytic reduction" technology was unproven in arctic conditions and cost prohibitive.

In the summer of 2002, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld EPA's actions. The state disagreed with the Circuit Court and requested the U.S. Supreme Court review the case. On Feb. 24, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. While the state is trying to make this into a state's right case, a reasonable person must ask if the state is really protecting its right to administer its own environmental regulations?

Perhaps but the primary issue may really be a financial one. Indeed, the Tony Knowles administration, which originally filed the lawsuit, said the lower court rulings threatened the

economic vitality of the area.

To be sure, Red Dog Mine is the Northwest Arctic Borough's major economic engine, providing 14 percent of total employment there. Additionally, NANA Regional Corporation will get an estimated $1 billion over the mine's projected life of 50 years.

Although the financial implications surrounding this issue are clear, one has to wonder if the Knowles administration ever considered the environmental vitality of the area. In 1989, concentrations of zinc were measured at levels more than 600 above what the government considers healthy to water life. In 1991, the EPA issued 134 separate permit violations to Comin-co. In December of 1991, ADEC issued a warning to the Red Dog Mine that lead levels outside the mill were 30 percent higher than what is considered to be protective of human health. In 2001, the EPA ranked Red Dog Mine the state's number one emitter of toxic substances and the second biggest nationwide. In September 2002, residents of Kivilina sued Teck Cominco Ltd., charging the company with 2,171 federal water-pollution violations.

While there may be a valid legal issue involving state's rights regarding this particular issue, we should not let politicians and money obscure the pollution of our state into secondary-issue status. All Alaskans have a vested interest in protecting their land and air. Our children will inherit the fruits of our labors or lack of them. The political establishment and big business want us to believe that the rewards far outweigh the risks, with regard to the exploitation of our natural resources, because they stand to make billions of dollars over the years. How much do you think that you and I will make?

Regardless of how many mines they open up or how many new oil fields are discovered, we the little people will continue to clip coupons, live paycheck to paycheck, and pay our

never ending bills. Don't let them fool you. Hold them accountable.

Mike Layne, Barrow

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