Small-scale miners in an remote Alaskan gold mining town were surprised by an environmental task force of federal regulators decked out in full body armor, who swarmed the area to check for clean water violations.
The tactics of the federal regulators, who descended on Chicken, a town of 17 full-time residents and dozens of seasonal miners last month, are now being questioned by Gov. Sean Parnell and Alaska’s congressional delegation, the Alaska Dispatch reports.
Parnell has called for a special counsel to investigate actions of the EPA-led task force, according to the newspaper. Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich have inquired about the task force’s action. US Rep. Don Young also is investigating the matter.
The officers were part of the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force and were in Chicken to check for violations of section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the Alaska Dispatch reports. The task force is made up of members of the EPA, FBI, Coast Guard, Department of Defense, the Alaska Department of Public Safety and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
EPA officials told Senate staff the body armor was worn because the agency was warned by state troopers of rampant drug and human trafficking going on in the area. A trooper spokesman disputed the EPA’s claims.
The EPA issued rules in 2010 to limit mercury air pollution from gold mines under the authority of the Clean Air Act. The new rule did not include limits for other hazardous mining air pollutants like cyanide and arsenic. Most airborne mercury pollution comes from coal-fired power plants, but emissions from gold mines account for about 10 percent, or 2,775 pounds, according to figures compiled from the EPA’s 2009 Toxic Release Inventory by Earthworks, an international mining reform group.
In small-scale operations, like the ones surrounding Chicken, air violations are unlikely to occur. Miners there search for gold by digging up the ground and running it through a sluice box. Water is used to wash away rocks and leave the gold behind.
Photo of Chicken, Alaska: James Brooks via Flikr