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By Rose Ragsdale
For Mining News 

A question of public trust

Shaken by recent politician corruption scandals, Alaska voters may have lost faith in the state's dedicated regulatory agencies

 

Last updated 7/27/2008 at Noon



When voters go to the polls Aug. 26, they will be asked to accept or reject Ballot Measure 4, a controversial proposal that is throwing into limbo years of progress in building up a hardrock mining industry in resource-rich Alaska.

Titled "Bill Providing For Regulation Of Water Quality (07WTR3)," the measure reads:

This bill imposes two water quality standards on new large scale metallic mineral mining operations in Alaska.

The first standard does not allow such a mining operation to release into water a toxic pollutant that will adversely affect human health or the life cycle of salmon.

The second standard does not allow such a mining operation to store mining wastes and tailings that could release sulfuric acid, other acids, dissolved metals or other toxic pollutants that could adversely affect water that is used by humans or by salmon.

The bill defines a large scale metallic mineral mining operation to mean a metallic mineral mining operation that is in excess of 640 acres in size. The bill defines toxic pollutants to include substances that will cause death and disease in humans and fish, and includes a list of substances identified as toxic pollutants under federal law.

Measure could shut down mining in Alaska

At best, this misguided, vaguely worded proposal will create costly complications for companies required to toe a very narrow line to comply with strict federal and state regulations already on the books.

At worst, Ballot Measure 4 could render every type of major mining project in Alaska impossible or impractical for miners to pursue economically. This could put thousands of Alaskans out of work and close off a promising avenue for the creation of future high-paying and rewarding jobs, especially in rural Alaska communities.

Either way, Ballot Measure 4 is generally regarded as really bad news by industry, government and legal experts throughout the state.

So why would pocketbook-conscious Alaskans with an independent streak a mile long vote for such a cockeyed proposal?

The answer is simple and obvious. It's a question of public trust.

Corruption scandal undermines public confidence

When Alaskans enter the voting booth Aug. 26, it will be just a few days shy of one year since the state was rocked by federal indictments of several state legislators. During the past year, more indictments have followed and federal officials have suggested that the job of ferreting out wrongdoers is far from over.

Alaskans have reacted by sending many new faces to Juneau.

In the coming primary, voters may be tempted to grab on to this ballot measure, seeing it as a fix-all remedy for problems with Alaska's mining regulations. These "problems" that are perceived and lamented primarily by self-serving initiative supporters who want to stop development a of mega-mine at the Pebble deposit in the Iliamna area.

But this "throw-out-the-good-with-the-bad-in favor-of-something-better" approach could backfire on Alaskans and create a host of unintended consequences.

Moreover, a vote for this proposal also constitutes a vote of "no confidence" for scores of dedicated federal and state regulators, mine employees and legal experts who call Alaska home and have every reason to protect the state's environment.

They say Ballot Measure 4 is a bad idea.

So it's really a question of who do you trust.

 

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