NEW REPORT: 80% of Alaska Metal Mines Polluted Water

Findings published amid push to gut public oversight and environmental review for new mines

Today Earthworks, along with four Alaska conservation, environmental health and justice organizations, released a report on the extensive record of spills and pollution violations at Alaska’s five major operating hardrock mines: Red Dog, Fort Knox, Pogo, Kensington and Greens Creek.

Metal mining is the leading source of toxic releases in Alaska, as well as the United States overall, posing a significant threat to clean water, clean air and healthy land. Yet that hasn’t prevented an onslaught of attempts to undermine community involvement and rigorous permitting in order to fast-track new mines, such as the controversial Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. The Trump Administration recently added mining to the Fast Act (FAST-41), and there is an ongoing attempt in Congress to gut the National Environmental Policy Act.

Below are key findings from the report, which is based on information gathered from an extensive review of state and federal documents, news reports and the federal National Response Center database:

    • 100% – All five mines have experienced at least one major spill or other accidental release of hazardous materials such as mine tailings, cyanide solution, diesel fuel and ore concentrate.
    • 80% – Four of the five mines failed to capture or control contaminated mine water, resulting in water quality violations that often occurred over an extended period.
    • 80% – Four out of five mines have been identified by EPA as out of compliance with federal laws to protect clean air or water in the last three years.
    • 40% – Metals pollution from two mines has contaminated public lands designated as National Monuments.
    • 80% – The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process at four of the mines underestimated water quality impacts, failing to predict violations of federal and state laws.

Below are quotes from the organizations publishing this report:

“This report highlights the gross deficiencies and failures of the regulatory system in Alaska.” said Pamela Miller, Executive Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics. “We deserve a strong, inclusive system that protects the lands, water and health of our people.  Current efforts to gut the environmental review process and limit public comment represents a very real threat to our public health and the environment.”

“Mining companies like to tout Alaska’s ‘rigorous’ permitting system,” said Bob Shavelson, Advocacy Director at Cook Inletkeeper. “But this report pulls back the curtain on Alaska’s phony permitting scheme, and tells the real story: that noncompliance and water quality violations are the norm, not the exception.”

“The track record of spills and water quality violations at these mines speak volumes against the recent efforts to weaken the permitting process, particularly efforts to limit public review.” said Bonnie Gestring, northwest Program Director for Earthworks.

“This report is eye opening about the reality that Alaska’s mine permitting process places profit and political interest ahead of safety and the public interest in clean water and intact landscapes,” said Solaris Gillispie, Clean Water and Mining Manager for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.

“Alaska advertises stringent environmental standards, which are considered the highest in the world,” said Guy Archibald, staff scientist for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.  “This report captures the inevitable result of political patronage and regulatory capture of our regulatory agencies that has put profit over public safety.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

  • The full report can be downloaded here.