Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Prevention is the only cure for mine drainage


December 5, 2019

In reference to Richard Clement’s letter from Nov. 27, I appreciate his thoughts, and I truly wish he was correct about the strength of the laws and practices protecting our health and waterways from mine waste. The major federal mining law was written in 1872. It contains no environmental provisions and has given away more than $300 billion in publicly owned minerals. The intent of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is to protect water quality, but the law has been weakened to favor industrial polluters, and Constantine appears to be attempting to bypass the law. Alaska DEC has remanded Constantine’s wastewater discharge permit. Constantine may need a federal permit instead of a state permit. The CWA doesn’t allow pollution of surface water by way of groundwater.

Alaska is very permissive with mine waste, as we saw when DEC ‘fixed’ one of Kensington’s 200+ violations by changing Kensington’s permit to legalize their discharge of acid drainage. Permitting, rather than preventing, pollution appears to be the state policy.

Like many local miners, my grandfather was a family man who loved to fish. He would never have chosen to pollute the waters that fed his family. But with sulfide mining, the devil is in the chemistry: sulfide mines create acid mine drainage, which brings toxic heavy metals into downstream waters. Modern technology has no effective solution, and in fact, modern mines produce many times more of this inherently, eternally polluting waste than mines from my grandfather’s time. Downstream communities inevitably bear the costs.

Jessica Plachta, Lynn Canal Conservation


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