Commentary: Strict mining standards don't guarantee good environmental results

The recent settlement by Teck Alaska over wastewater discharge violations at its Red Dog Mine and port near Kotzebue testifies to both the value of the Clean Water Act and the risk inherent in world-class mining operations.

For Alaskans, the settlement underscores doubts about the wisdom of exploiting the Pebble prospect, which has world-class gold and copper deposits near the headwaters of some of Bristol Bay's richest salmon streams.

We're told Alaska has strong mining laws that will ensure Pebble is benign. Experience with Red Dog suggests those laws have failed to prevent significant trouble.

In Teck's agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency, Teck admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to pay a $120,000 fine for alleged wastewater discharge violations at its zinc and lead mining facilities.

The violations stemmed from a standard seven-day inspection in 2006 that found Teck wrongly diluted wastewater with water from a freshwater reservoir, thus spoiling required samples, and also spilled treated water on the tundra at its port facility on the Chukchi Sea.

Jim Kulas, manager of environmental and public affairs for the Red Dog Mine, said the dilution complaints stemmed from a misunderstanding over allowable procedures, and said the tundra spills were of treated water and did no harm.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.