Story last updated at 8/12/2009 - 1:16 pm
JUNEAU - U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich sent two letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urging the agency to quickly complete permitting of the Kensington gold mine in Southeast Alaska.
The first letter detailed the senators' concerns with recent efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to intercede in the permitting of the mine.
"After nearly two decades of review and legal challenges, it's time to respect the Supreme Court's decision and allow this important economic project to move forward," Murkowski said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Coeur Alaska had a valid permit from the Corps to dispose of tailings from its Kensington mine in Lower Slate Lake. Despite the court's ruling, the EPA asked the Corps to re-evaluate the tailings disposal plan for what the EPA believes is a more environmentally sound alternative.
"The Army Corps of Engineers now has all the information it needs to finalize the permit for this vital mine in Southeast Alaska," Begich said. "Residents of the region have been waiting long enough for the 300 good jobs the Kensington Mine will produce. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has acted, let's get to work developing this project. I'm confident the Army Corps will do the right thing and issue the final permit within weeks."
The Murkowski-Begich letter included detailed legal analysis refuting the EPA's arguments and pointing out errors in the agency's case, including the senators' opinion that no substantially new or significant information on the mine has surfaced to prompt additional review.
A second letter, signed by Murkowski and Begich along with 10 Senate colleagues, similarly called on the Corps to reject any further delay and raised concerns about the potential precedent of allowing EPA to challenge Corps-issued permits.
"We have signed this letter because of the far-reaching implications that decisions related to Kensington Mine could have - not just in Alaska, but throughout the United States," the 12 senators wrote. "At the heart of the debate is whether a project that has complied with all environmental laws, that has gone out of its way to institute training and local hire of Native Americans, and has withstood years of legal challenge and won in the Supreme Court, can now be killed through additional bureaucratic delays."
The letter was signed by Sens. Murkowski; Begich; James Risch, R-Idaho; Sam Brownback, R-Kansas; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma; John Barrasso, R-Wyoming; Bob Bennett, R-Utah; Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming; John Thune, R-South Dakota; Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.