Opinion: Kensington Mine cares about community, environment

Coeur Alaska cares deeply about protecting our people and the environment.

  • By Mark Kiessling
  • Thursday, August 22, 2019 3:51pm
  • Opinion

I am proud to be the General Manager of Coeur Alaska’s Kensington Mine and a member of the Juneau community.

Kensington, which is located on the east side of Lynn Canal about 45 miles from Juneau, directly employs almost 400 people, paying over $58 million in total wages and benefits in 2017.

Including indirect employment, Kensington supports over 860 jobs statewide. About two-thirds of our employees are Alaskan, with over 40% from the Juneau area.

We are the second largest private employer and property taxpayer in Juneau. We are an active member of our community, having supported 59 local organizations in 2018 and 40 during the first half of 2019.

We strive to maintain strong and productive relationships with all of our regulators, who we recognize have an important job to do. We have been working with the EPA over the last year or so to resolve a variety of citations related to mostly old and technical compliance matters.

Throughout that entire process we were very cooperative and transparent. In light of that cooperation and transparency, and the nature of the citations, we were surprised and disappointed to see the EPA’s recent press release.

Coeur Alaska cares deeply about protecting our people and the environment.

On behalf of hundreds of dedicated employees who are committed to doing the right thing, I feel compelled to correct misinformation and respond to recent articles and press releases that paint Kensington in an inaccurate light and do not tell the whole story of Kensington’s environmental performance record.

These are some of the additional facts and perspectives we believe are important to balance the impression created by the EPA’s press release:

• The majority of these alleged violations were several years old and don’t reflect the current operating status of the mine. These alleged violations stemmed from self-reported instances submitted in the monthly and annual reports to state and federal agencies and available to the public online.

• None of the alleged violations resulted in any significant harm to the environment.

• State and federal agencies routinely inspect the mine.

• The State of Alaska (ADNR, ADEC and ADF&G) has been an active participant in Coeur Alaska’s environmental improvements and conducts regular inspections to ensure compliance to all state and federal permits and when necessary has held Coeur accountable.

• From the beginning of operations, Kensington has monitored and reported impacts on the environment. The mine has worked with the agencies to adjust its operations and best management practices to improve environmental performance.

• Salmon habitat at Kensington is protected and has never been shown to be impacted in our nine years of operation.

• The EPA press release exaggerates the number of violations counting one monthly average limit violation, however minor, as 30 or 31 individual daily violations.

• EPA frames a good faith disagreement about whether certain reports were required as a “failure” to file.

The alleged violations arose from a 2015 inspection and yet EPA waited almost four years to say anything to Coeur about them, and then imposed a penalty for the interim years. Whether or not a report is required depends on highly technical calculations of nitrate compound releases for which EPA has provided the industry very little guidance.

Coeur has no reason to try to avoid filing these reports, and is open to guidance from the EPA as shown by our adoption of EPA’s preferred calculation methodology going-forward, which we offered to do without hesitation during our engagement with EPA.

Coeur is committed to responsible stewardship and has robust programs to proactively monitor and protect water quality and resources. We are proud of the progress we’ve achieved in our environmental performance record over time and remain committed to continuous improvement.

We will never stop trying to do better to make sure we take care of our environment and our people, so we can continue to be a strong and positive force for Juneau and the state of Alaska for years to come.

• Mark Kiessling is General Manager of the Coeur Alaska Kensington Mine. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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