Idaho politics: Idaho delegation rips EPA mine cleanup plan

Idaho's congressional delegation is lining up to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency's mining cleanup plans in the Coeur d'Alene basin.

In a joint news release, the delegation took turns criticizing the cost of the plan.

Of some note here are comments from 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. While his district is hundreds of miles from the Coeur d'Alene basin, Simpson sits in a key position on this issue. In a Republican-controlled House, Simpson will chair an appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over EPA.

"Setting all other arguments aside, there can be no justification for the costs associated with these changes given the current economic challenges facing our nation and the enormous debt Congress and the administration continue to pile on future generations," wrote Simpson. "I am deeply troubled by both the cost and time frame of this plan and believe it will be rejected, if not by EPA itself, then by Congress.”

Gov. Butch Otter criticized the plan last week. The cleanup could cost an estimated $1.3 billion and take 50 to 90 years to complete, according to the Associated Press.

Here's the delegation's news release:

Members of Idaho’s congressional delegation charge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is ignoring local concerns and a scientific review panel in moving ahead with a bloated and long-term plan for environmental actions related to mining activity in the Silver Valley. Worse yet, said Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressmen Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick in separate public comment letters, the multibillion dollar plan could worsen pollution problems and harm economic growth in the area. They have called on the federal agency to change course and explain its actions.

“EPA's proposal is simply too big and too expensive, especially in these difficult economic times,” wrote Crapo, noting EPA ignored the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that urge EPA to take incremental stages in the management efforts. “EPA proposes a massive undertaking on a scale that is hardly imaginable, possibly without precedent, and with no realistic way to pay for it. I am concerned that EPA's proposal will actually worsen conditions in the South Fork by removing water for treatment at critical, low flow conditions.” Crapo said flooding concerns, presently unaddressed by the EPA, could actually worsen pollution issues in the Silver Valley. “We must not allow storm or flood water to add contaminants downstream or to Lake Coeur d’ Alene.”

“The EPA is not providing a realistic plan for the cleanup of the Coeur d’Alene Basin. It is a massive proposal that has an unsustainable budget and requires a level of state funding that is not possible. Worst of all, it rejects the reasonable input of the citizens of the Silver Valley who will be economically harmed by the cleanup proposed plan,” said Sen. Jim Risch. “I have written to the EPA to include my concerns as part of the public comment period. I will be most interested to hear how they justify their plan in light of the many issues raised.”

“Setting all other arguments aside, there can be no justification for the costs associated with these changes given the current economic challenges facing our nation and the enormous debt Congress and the administration continue to pile on future generations. I am deeply troubled by both the cost and time frame of this plan and believe it will be rejected, if not by EPA itself, then by Congress,” wrote Congressman Mike Simpson, ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment which funds EPA. “I urge EPA to pull this plan back and reconsider the direction of remediation in the basin. I further urge EPA to undertake a committed effort to build consensus in North Idaho around a workable path forward that reflects the economic realities in which we now find ourselves.”

“The EPA proposal is much too costly. There is only a limited amount of money available from the cleanup fund and potentially responsible parties,” said Congressman Walt Minnick. “The EPA ought to do the best they can to protect human health and maintain our quality of life, but it cannot expect unlimited funding particularly at a time when federal spending must be reduced.”

The delegation members noted that at public hearings on the EPA planning, residents were nearly unanimous is their disapproval of a 50 to 90-year management effort by the federal agency. They add the EPA is attempting to restrict current mining activity that is already regulated and has no bearing on past management practices.

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Grandstanding Congressmen not understanding the law

The delegation has swallowed the mining industry nonsense hook, line, and sinker. For example, Simpson should already know that taxpayers will pay little, if anything, for this cleanup. There's some $450 million already in trust from a bankruptcy settlement and Hecla Mining owes some 31% of the costs. And Crapo, if he had actually read the NAS study, would have found that water treatment is necessary to the cleanup and if he read the plan he'd know that adaptive management is built into it.

If left to their own devices, the mining industry wouldn't clean up the Silver Valley at all, and the captive Idaho government officials would simply let them get away with it. They've been whining about this cleanup since kids were poisoned regularly and vegetation on the hills of Kellogg were chemically scorched. For this, we should be glad EPA, and not Idaho, is in charge.