On August 26th Alaskans will vote in the 2008 primary election. Set to appear on the ballot is an initiative dubbed a “clean water” measure by proponents, which unfairly and deceptively targets Alaska’s mining industry.
As a state with a history of responsible resource develop-ment, Alaskans must vote no on Ballot Measure 4.
The measure’s drafters fail to acknowledge the full consequences of their deceptive, poorly written initiative. Unintended con-sequences could result in a shutdown of all large-scale metallic mining in Alaska. Measure 4 is a tremendous threat to current and future mining, jobs and the economic base of both rural and urban economies across the state.
The proponents of Measure 4 are shopping their message around the state, telling Alaskans that the initiative is designed to stop one particular mine from going forward and that the measure will not affect existing mines. This is simply not true.
According to the proponents, Measure 4 would prohibit the discharge of “toxic pollutants or pollutants” in a “measurable amount that will effect [sic] human health or welfare in any stage of the life cycle of salmon into surface or subsurface water or tributary thereto.” It would also prohibit the “storing or disposing of rock” in a way that “will effect [sic], directly or indirectly, surface or subsurface water or tributaries thereto used for human consumption or salmon spawning, rearing, migration or propagation.”
The first problem with these two prohibitions is the term, “will effect [sic],” which is not defined by the writers of the initiative and therefore may include any effects, positive or negative, to the water. The Supreme Court is expected to rule in July on the meaning of “effect,” but as currently written, these two elements of Measure 4 will bring about years of court challenges to determine how the initiative actually impacts the mining industry, now and in the future.
Further, Measure 4 would prohibit “the release or discharge of toxic pollutants and other chemicals into waters of the State” in any amount. This would effectively eliminate any mixing zones by ignoring that even treated water posing no threat can contain some chemicals. Even municipal tap water certified for public consumption contains measurable amounts of chemicals. Measure 4 would require standards more rigorous than what is in place for other industries, communities and even drinking water.
The technology to completely remove all trace elements from water does not exist. Passage of Ballot Measure 4 would halt development of future mines or existing mine expansions by prohibiting them from discharging water that has fewer trace metals than tap water, if the wording “in measurable amounts” is strictly interpreted.
This clearly illustrates that regardless of what the proponents say, this initiative is not about water; it is about stopping mining.
Moreover, the ballot measure would raise the barrier so high in regard to storage of rock that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to meet. Waste rock and tailings are the natural byproducts of mining and a mine cannot operate without creating them. State and federal regulators already control their storage and disposal, and require ongoing monitoring along with redundancy in the containment systems.
The proponents of this misleading initiative still claim that it will not shutdown existing mines. As the measure reads, it would not apply to “existing large scale metallic mineral mining operations that have received all the required federal, state and local permits…or to future operations of existing facilities at those sites.”
Those familiar with the mining industry are aware that mines are constantly in a state of permitting. Water quality permits are issued for five-year terms and must be reapplied for when they expire. Therefore, in addition to new mines being prohibited, some existing mines could be unable to facilities” is unclear. For example, Fort Knox is currently constructing a heap leach facility within the permitted mine site boundaries that will add years of life to the mine. This is a new facility at an existing operation, which under this initiative could be prohibited, thus preventing the extension of the life of the mine. Is this a chance we want to take with a substantial part of Alaska’s economy?
The mining industry brings over 3,500 direct jobs to Alaskans throughout our state, many in rural and economically disadvantaged areas. Those jobs pay an average of $80,000 per year. Further, mines pay state and local taxes totaling almost $200 million annually, while adding to the transportation infrastructure and economic stability of these areas.
And there are more unintended consequences of Measure 4 the jobs of roughly 2,000 Alaskans who work in the mining support industries. From trucking and shipping companies, to engineering firms and construction companies, even a pizza parlor in Nome where over 30% of their business comes from people directly employed by the mining industry, the effects of a mining shutdown would be felt across the state. It is essential that Measure 4 be defeated at the polls August 26th.
The fact that there is so much uncertainty in the meaning of the various phrases used in Ballot Measure 4 make it, at best, an irresponsible way to change policy in our state, and, at worst, a wolf in sheep’s clothing designed to surreptitiously destroy large scale metallic mining in Alaska. We cannot let this happen. All Alaskans want clean water and the state and federal governments have stringent regulations in place now to protect salmon and human health, but it is the unintended and unknown consequences of Ballot Measure 4 that should convince Alaskans to vote against it.
Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown is a diverse group of 3,000 Alaskans, supported by the Council of Alaska Producers and they would appreciate your support. If you are not already a member, please join today at: www.againsttheshutdown.com.
Together we can fight Ballot Measure 4 and preserve Alaska’s rich tradition of safe, responsible mining.
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