Friday, August 7, 2009

Sen. Begich's Sellout to Coeur Alaska - Part One

While some Alaska bloggers have been quick to jump on the bandwagon of praise for Alaska Sen. Mark Begich's reluctant "yes" vote for the most qualified nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court in a generation, after what he intentionally wanted the Alaska press and bloggers to believe to have been a carefully weighed decision - one even giving Begich a "gold star" - Progressive Alaska is not ready to even, as commenter Bones AK wrote at The Mudflats yesterday evening, give Mark "a head nod" on this.

While Sen. Begich's office gave him cover up to the end, to actually possibly be the only Democrat to vote against this outstanding high court nominee, in spite of the fact he had announced back in June that he felt comfortable with the judge's 2nd Amendment positions, what we had here was pure political bullshit.

I thought Mark was a better man.

This isn't nearly as disturbing as his office's continuing neglect of directly addressing the destruction of the salmon stock in the Yukon River, and that holocaust's implications for the 7,000-year-old cultures of those who live upon the greatest of Alaska rivers. Also, it seems, at this point, that he would prefer to hold three days of fundraisers at Alyeska (August 14, 15 & 16), to raise money for the Blue Dogs who are attempting to derail health care reform and undermine our president.

Priorities, priorities...

I'm not quite as ready to condemn Sen. Begich's statement, issued jointly on August 4, with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, questioning "recent efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to intercede in the permitting of the mine, despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Corps was the proper permitting agency." Instead, I'm trying to get information on how the inaccurate and misleading documents came about.

As anyone familiar with both the Supreme Court ruling referenced by Begich and Murkowski, and Justice Ginsberg's eloquent minority dissent is aware, this is an exceedingly complex issue, to say the least.

I have two problems with the Begich-Murkowski press release, and with the material sent to the EPA. First of all, the letter contains many word strings that appear to have been lifted either word-for-word or idea-for-idea from Coeur Alaska talking points.

And, secondly, going through materials easily found at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council's web site, here is a dissection of some of the points made in the joint letter. The joint letter extracts are in red, or in text boxes. The truth is in dark green:

Because we care about the environment and also the people of Alaska, we found it profoundly distressing to have the EPA suggest yet another tailings disposal option in its letter of July 14, 2009 to you, especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision which specifically recognized the thorough review of alternatives undertaken in the permitting process leading to the Lower Slate Lake Corps 404 tailings permit," Murkowski and Begich wrote in the letter to the Corps.

The paste tailings plan was not developed before the original lawsuit was filed and was therefore not reviewed in the permitting process leading to the lake dumping permits and subsequent lawsuit/decision. The paste tailings option was not considered in the EIS on which the Army Corps based its permits.

The hyperbole here is unbelievable.

The paste plan that EPA suggests as a potentially better option is certainly not “demonstrably worse” for the environment. I will discuss this in more detail below, and SEACC’s comments to the Army Corps go into great detail on this point.

Nor would the paste plan “kill the project.” In fact, Coeur could have had the mine open 8 months ago if it had completed the permitting process for the paste plan. We have copies of draft EPA permits for the paste plan that were only weeks away from complete when Coeur pulled out of the paste plan permitting process to gamble on the Supreme Court.

Where were the letters from the Senators and other leaders last September when Coeur took a sure thing and tossed it back into the winds of uncertainty just to squeeze a few more dollars of profit out of Alaska’s minerals? Two years ago, Coeur characterized the paste tailings plan as “the way forward.” A year ago, they dropped it like a hot potato no one else thought was hot. The outcry now seem to me like disingenuous pandering to those unwilling or unable to accept the realities of complicated resource issues in Alaska.

And, to those who read the Supreme Court’s opinion, EPA is not trying to “circumvent” the Court’s decision, but rather to respond to the Court’s declaration that the laws and regulations are ambiguous and that the agencies have the right to review and change past decisions based on new information or circumstances. (See my last email). So really, a new, non-Bush EPA is using the administrative process to fulfill its obligations to protect

Small point: According to an ad in the Juneau Empire on Coeur Alaska says "300 jobs to complete construction, then “275 total local direct jobs during operations.”

Different administrations have different levels of what is acceptable and what should be done about it. Bush’s EPA was not known for taking hard looks at environmental concerns that might cross businesses’ desires.

If you compare apples to apples (a frequent complaint by EPA is that Coeur does not do this), then the lake dumping plan will directly impact 95-118 acres of waters (wetlands, streams and lakes). See SEACC comments p.4. Does anyone really believe a mine company will live up to its promises of reclamation? I am not aware of one yet. See a recent story in the Empire about Salt Chuck and Bokan Mountain mines in SE Alaska and SEACC comments p.5, last ppg.

Region X of EPA has long questioned this plan. The upper offices of Bush’s EPA declined to use the veto. That does not, and should not, affect what a new administration decides to do with new information. EPA certainly has not “fully supported” the lake dumping plan. In the attached 2004 letter from EPA to the Army Corps, EPA states: The 404(b)(1) Guidelines state in part that no discharge of dredged or fill material may be permitted unless it is the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative. The Senators also question whether the new information EPA sites in its letter is actually new. Although it may have been known to those of us working on this issue for some time, and to the public as well, the information is all new since the Corps issued its permits for the lake dumping plan, forcing SEACC to challenge the permits and leading to the Supreme Court’s decision. This information was not part of the briefing to the Supreme Court.


Progressive Alaska
will be publishing further information on this as time permits. I've got to hit the road.

Thanks to the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council for continuing assistance on getting information out on the inaccuracies of the joint Begich-Murkowski communications on Kensington Mine.

I just got off the phone with Sen. Begich's Washington DC office. The spokesperson - "Haines" - had no comment on the upcoming round of Alyeska fundraisers, the lack of concern about salmon depletion in the Bering Sea and looming disaster in the Yukon River, or on how the joint letter to the Corps was crafted. He did thank me for my continuing support of Sen. Begich, and assured me that my earlier queries have gone unanswered only because of the pressures on Sen. Begich's time during the last week of the session, and the upcoming recess's schedule of, as he put it, "town hall meetings," which he encouraged me to attend. I was once again assured that somebody beyond the press office will be in touch.....


Anonymous said...

The red text does not appear and the text boxes are empty. Each displaying an X in the left hand corner.

I have been trying to follow this story, but don't see any point in reading only one side of an arguement.

Philip Munger said...

anon @ 8:53 - problems fixed.

Wolfe Tone said...

It's my estimation that Mark Begich is a political chameleon, with no philosophical substance whatsoever.

Frankly, since he's aligned himself with "Conservative Democrats" in the Senate, other than gender, it's very hard to tell the difference between Begich and Lisa Murkowski.

He has a long way to go to prove himself to me.

Blue_in_AK said...

If Mark is going to align himself with the Blue Dogs, I will do everything in my power to see that a more progressive Democrat runs against him in 2014 and defeats him. I'm sick of Democrats acting like Republicans.

Anonymous said...

Progressive? Closing the largest recycler in Alaska- Woronzof Compost facility?

soon to be run by? Rubini

Voting with Ben Stevens on property tax exemption for Elmendorf housing?

owned now by? Rubini

Bait and switched shell game for National Records office?

owned then sold to taxpayers, for and by Rubini

Calais building ownership?

Just which progressive Alaskan was his Treasurer?


Mark Begich is NOT his Dad more of carny folk

Anonymous said...


What's in the water you're drinking down there?

Stop mocking other Alaskan Blogs! Reposting a commenter on Mudflats reaches a new low!

As for Begich...I wish he were more progressive. He said at the Jefferson Jackson dinner he holds out on votes because he gets to talk about other important Alaska issues. I'll take a blue dog-much as I hate them-over a Republican any day!

Obama is MODERATE. Begich is MODERATE. Lest you forget, Begich SQUEAKED IN; had Ted Stevens not been convicted, Stevens would have won.

And with everything going on...your priority right now is to kick and mock Mudflats and Mudflats commenters and beat up Senator Begich?