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Copyright 1999 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.  
Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Testimony

June 15, 1999


LENGTH: 1483 words


Testimony of David Kliegman June 15, 1999 Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Public Lands Management Good afternoon Chairman and committee members. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before this committee regarding the March 25, 1999 letter form the Department of Interior. My name is David Kliegman, my family and I have lived in the Okanogan Highlands, near the site of the proposed mine site for nearly 20 years. For several years I worked as a physical therapy technician in the public schools in our valley. I left that job to pursue a lifelong interest in woodworking. It was about this same time that news of a large scale, open-pit, cyanide-leach gold mine in our area became a significant concern for me and many of my neighbors. As I learned about the implications of this type of mining I was compelled to get involved. I didn't know at the time was the level of personal commitment it would take to prevent a powerful multi-national corporation from simply rolling over our highland hills. I now work as director of Okanogan Highlands Alliance, a local public interest organization, with statewide and national membership. After over eight years of extensive consultation and study of the legal and technical aspects of the proposed Crown Jewel mine, we have concluded that the risk to public health, safety and the environment outweighs the benefits. We also discovered that the mine plan is illegal. This mine is strongly opposed by the conservation community. Battle Mountain Gold Co. (BMG) will no doubt explain to you how many state permits they have obtained. They will paint a rosy picture for you of how they have done everything the agencies have asked to protect the environment. I am here to tell you another story. This mine proposal has been controversial from the start. BMG has consistently overwhelmed underfunded regulatory agencies and exerted political pressure to obtain agency management approvals over staff objections. The Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) staff person responsible for the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification for the Crown Jewel Project, asked to be taken off the project two weeks before the approval of the Agency Certification, because Ecology's management had decided to issue the 401 despite the companies failure to provide reasonable assurances that this project would meet water quality standards. Ecology management failed to adopt the permit requirements recommended by staff that would include contingent treatment for predicted water quality violations from leachate discharge under the waste rock. The problem was compounded because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not receive a copy of the permit to peer review until just prior to it's issuance. The company threatened a lawsuit against Ecology if the permit was delayed any further, even though much of the delay has been caused by waiting for the company itself to provide necessary documents. Local state legislators, who serve on committees that provide funding for the Ecology, exerted political pressure to expedite the permitting process as well. The water quality permit that was approved under this intense pressure is currently under appeal. As you can see from the excerpts from the water quality permit I have included, it in no way provides assurances that water quality standards will be met. To the contrary, it clearly states that the mine is predicted to violate water quality standards. How many ways can you interpret Section E of the permit? Aside from the water quality, BMG's water rights would violate the rights of downstream water users with senior rights. New water rights in the basin have been denied due to over allocation since the 1950's. BMG's open pit would permanently change the hydrology of the area. BMG's approach, to augment depleted streams with a Rube Goldberg like contraption that would discharge contaminated pit-lake water into depleted streams, is unsatisfactory and another tribute to political interference with a technical process. If this mine proposal could have passed all the laws and permit regulations, it would have gone forward long ago. But BMG has continually tried to get by with the minimum environmental protection and used it's wealth and influence to create access to the political process and gain exceptions to the laws for this flawed proposal (as described above). The latest political maneuver, to attach an exemption for this controversial mine proposal from one of the few limitations in the 1872 mining law, in Conference Committee to the Emergency Funding bill for hurricane victims and the war in Kosovo, has rightly inspired a national uproar. BMG's proposal must pass legal scrutiny, not receive special favors and exemptions from the law if it wants to develop a mine. This special exemption for a single multinational gold corporation shows contempt for the laws and for a fair and open political process. The power of Congress should be used judiciously, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. The Forest Service's (FS) approval of the Record of Decision (ROD) for the mine was premised on the fact that BMG had valid mining claims. It was clearly stated that the approval should in no way be construed as an implicit approval of their claims. The Department of Interior had to examine the validity of the mining claims before the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and FS could approve a Plan of Operations (PoO) for the mine project. For BMG to have progressed as it did was a miscalculation on the part of their lawyers and management and should not be at the expense of the American people or the local residence near Buckhorn Mountain. Since the plan BMG was flagrantly over the legal limit of millsites, the Interior and Agriculture Departments were acting completely within the law to deny the PoO and revoke the ROD. Battle Mountain Gold Co. (BMG) does not need emergency relief. To cry crocodile tears and ask favors of congress is indefensible. Feigned ignorance of the law is not a defense. Too often corporations are treated with deference because of the power and influence they wield. They have the resources to wield inordinate influence in Congress outweighing the public interest and right to fairness. There is no doubt that there are aspects of the local economy are challenged due to the weak Canadian dollar, poor return on apple crops and a decline in resource extraction. The rest of the story is that the overall economy of the area has been growing steadily even though the resource extraction industries have been declining. Although change is never easy most people have embraced the inevitability of it and are taking advantage of the excellent dislocated worker programs and are learning new skills and helping our community transition. Although the mystique of investing in gold mining and the idea of getting rich quick has blinded some, most people recognize that this type of venture is always risky and not a reliable basis for long term economic stability. The incredible beauty of the Okanogan Highlands and it's proximity to wilderness and natural areas has always attracted people to this area and been a part of the local economy. With the steady growth in our overall economy and rapid expansion of technology, has come an increased demand for the aesthetic and recreational resources that the natural environment offers. The Crown Jewel gold mine has been extremely controversial because it would blast off the top of one of the highest mountains in the picturesque Okanogan Highlands and leave a toxic lake in an open- pit in the place of five clean, healthy, headwater, steams. It would also dump 100 acres of tailings 250' deep behind an earthen dam on top of one of those creeks. Okanogan Highlands Alliance is working with community members to create a model for sustainable economic development. A case in point is this bottled water. The proposed gold mine would use over 2,000 gallons of clean water for every ounce of gold it produced. However the price of gold is well below $300 per ounce. The economics are simple, as the demand for and the cost of water is on the rise, gold prices are steadily falling. Even at $1 a gallon pure water is more precious than gold. On behalf of the Okanogan Highlands Alliance, I implore you to consider that one of the most valuable things we could leave our children and future generations is a clean and healthy environment. The need for a mining law that conforms to the needs of the twenty first century is apparent to everyone. Mining can be done in a way that protects the environment and for the mining industry to prosper, it needs to recognize the need for changes in the way it mines. Please help to provide a forum for fair and open debate on the subject of mine reform.

LOAD-DATE: June 17, 1999

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