Juneau and Washington, DC: More than 1,500 consumers sent letters to the World Gold Council (WGC) and Idaho-based Coeur D'Alene Mines Corporation this week urging them to protect clean water and not use rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans as dumps for mine waste.
Coeur wants to dump 4.5 million tons of chemically-processed mine waste from its Kensington gold mine in Southeast Alaska into a pristine mountain lake — killing all of the fish and most other aquatic life in the lake. WGC is the marketing arm of the gold mining industry and Coeur is one of its newest members. Critics argue that allowing lake dumping at Kensington would open the door for other mines across Alaska to do the same, threatening traditional fishing and gathering by Alaska Natives and destroying the clean water and fisheries that provide income and livelihoods to thousands of Alaskans.
“Gold loses its luster when it is produced at the expense of clean water and local communities. Dumping waste into a lake for the sake of greater profit is exactly the type of irresponsible behavior that ethical consumers and jewelers oppose,” said Radhika Sarin, international campaign coordinator at Earthworks.
More than 50,000 consumers have signed a petition supporting the No Dirty Gold campaign to reform destructive mining practices. Since February of this year, eleven jewelry retailers have also joined the No Dirty Gold campaign in calling for more responsible mining practices. Specifically, they have expressed their desire to source gold that is produced in accordance with social, environmental and human rights principles such as obtaining local community consent; respecting workers' rights; not mining in protected areas; and not dumping mine wastes into oceans, rivers, lakes, or streams.
“There is a strong demand for an alternative to dirty gold that the World Gold Council and its members can no longer ignore,” said Keith Slack, senior policy advisor at Oxfam America. “It's time for mining companies to step up and ensure that they are not using outdated practices that harm communities and the environment.”
Coeur's critics say they are not opposed to the Kensington mine itself but to the way it wants to dispose its waste. They want the company to do it right and protect Alaska's clean water, which is the heart of Alaska's fishing, recreation, and tourism industries and is essential to maintaining the traditional way of life for many Alaskans. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and other local groups have legally challenged Kensington's permit and are awaiting a decision from the federal district court.
Coeur's actions are particularly important because the Kensington mine could set a precedent for other mines across the U.S. to dump their waste in lakes and streams — something that hasn't happened since the Clean Water Act became law more than 30 years ago. State officials in Alaska have acknowledged that Kensington could lay the groundwork for the Pebble Mine, a massive, open-pit gold and copper mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, which supports one of the largest wild salmon fisheries in the world. Northern Dynasty Minerals Corporation, a Canadian mining company, has suggested it may dump a billion tons or more of mine waste into the Bristol Bay watershed over the life of the mine.
“There are viable alternatives that Coeur can use to store the waste that Kensington generates. If Coeur does it right, then Alaska can have both a mine and protect its clean water,” said Russell Heath, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.