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EPA Rescinds Key Red Dog Mine Permit Limits

The EPA recently withdrew Red Dog Mine's discharge permit limits challenged by the NAEC and Native villages that would have allowed the mine to discharge increased levels of pollutants into Alaska's waters.

Anchorage, Alaska:   On March 17, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally withdrew key components of the new water pollution discharge permit for the Red Dog Mine.  The Native Village of Kivalina IRA Council, Native Village of Point Hope IRA Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Alaska Community Action against Toxics, and five Kivalina residents appealed the permit in February.

Teck Alaska, Inc., which has operated the Red Dog Mine for the past 20 years, obtained a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to expand mining operations into the Aqqaluk Deposit, which will extend the life of the mine by another 20 years.    

The Red Dog Mine is the world’s largest zinc mine with a long history of illegal mining waste pollution which enters the Wulik River system, approximately 40 miles upstream of Kivalina.  The Wulik River is Kivalina’s drinking water source and an important source of subsistence fish, including Arctic Grayling, dolly varden, and salmon.

EPA withdrew limits for cyanide, zinc, selenium, lead, and total dissolved solids from the new permit, subjecting the mine to the more stringent limits in the mines 1998 permit.  The mine has historically refused to comply with those more stringent limits.  EPA intends to allow the mine to develop Aqqaluk even after withdrawing the key permit limits from the new mine permit.

“We want to improve the health and welfare of our Village,” said Enoch Adams, Jr., Vice President of the Native Village of Kivalina IRA Council.  “That means we want economic development but at the same time we demand that EPA protect our subsistence and clean water rights.”   

In 1997, the federal government sued Teck Alaska, the operator of the Red Dog mine for discharging its mine waste into the Wulik River system, eventually settling the violations for a $1.7 million penalty.    

In 2008, after a five-year court fight and establishing over 800 violations of the Clean Water Act for discharging mine waste into the Wulik River, five courageous Kivalina Residents reached a settlement agreement with Teck Alaska.  The settlement requires Teck to either build a pipeline to discharge its treated mine waste into the Chuckchi Sea, instead of into the Wulik River system which ultimately enters the Chuckchi Sea anyway, or pay a $8 million or $20 million penalty to the U.S. Treasury if Teck does not build the pipeline. 

The head of EPA, Lisa Jackson, recently outlined her seven top priorities after the end of her first year in the Obama Administration.  Among those seven are (1) working for environmental justice with tribes and including environmental justice principles in all of EPA’s decisions; (2) building strong partnerships with tribes; and (3) protecting America’s waters from surface mining pollution.[1] 

“Despite these priorities, Ms. Jackson’s agency intends to allow Red Dog to continue with development and mining of the Aqqaluk deposit,” added Adams.  “In other words, EPA prioritized this Canadian corporation’s interests over what Jackson claimed were her priorities.  We will not accept EPA’s capitulation to Red Dog.”

[1] Memorandum from Lisa Jackson to All EPA Employees, January 12, 2010.

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