Center on Race, Poverty, & the Environment
California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation\

631 HOWARD STREET, Suite 330

415/495-8990  !  Fax 415/495-8849
1224 JEFFERSON ST., Suite 25
DELANO, CA  93215 
Ralph Santiago Abascal (1934-1997)
Director 1990-1997
Luke W. Cole
Contact: Enoch Adams, Kivalina Relocation Planning Committee (907) 645-2138
Luke Cole, Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment (415) 495-8990
July 15, 2002
            An Inupiaq village today told the operators of the world’s largest zinc mine to stop polluting its environment.  The Kivalina Relocation Planning Committee of the Village of Kivalina, Alaska, notified Teck Cominco Alaska, operators of the Red Dog Mine in the Northwest Arctic Borough, of their intention to sue the company for more than 3,200 violations of the Clean Water Act that contaminate the Inupiaqs’ drinking water and traditional hunting and fishing grounds. 
            Since the mine began operating in 1989, residents have noticed a serious decline in their drinking water quality and changes in the patterns and abundance of migration of marine mammals and fish. “The effect on subsistence hunting and fishing has been adverse from the beginning,” says Enoch Adams, a member of the Committee. “We have seen fish kills, and the caribou and beluga migrations have changed.  We have to work a whole lot harder to find sources of food since the mine opened.”
            After years of appealing to state and federal agencies to get Teck Cominco to clean up its operation, the citizens plan to take matters to the courts. “Although we have found that EPA is willing to listen to us and hear what we have to say, EPA’s oversight has been undermined by Teck Cominco’s self-monitoring,” says Adams.
            The Village of Kivalina is a traditional Inupiaq village, located 80 miles northwest of Kotzebue in the Northwest Arctic Borough, on the tip of an eight mile barrier reef between the Chukchi Sea and the Kivalina River.  Its 377 residents are primarily subsistence hunters and fishers who rely on beluga whales, bearded seal, caribou, and Dollie Varden trout, among other Arctic species,  for the majority of their food sources.  The community’s primary source of drinking water is the Wulik River.  The Kivalina Relocation Planning Committee is a seven-member body composed of representives of the Kivalina IRA, the City Council, the community at-large, community elders, and the education community. 
            The Kivalina Relocation Planning Committee is suing Teck Cominco under “citizen suit” provisions of the federal Clean Water Act for violations of its permits at its mine site and at the port site along the Chukchi Sea.  According to documents that the company files with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, when it is discharging, the mine has almost continuously violated its permit conditions since they were issued in 1998 and 1999. 
            The permit violations that the Committee has identified are significant and hazardous.  At the mine site, Teck Cominco’s wastewater regularly contains 1500 percent more total dissolved solids than its permit allows.  The mine regularly exceeds permit limits for discharges of cyanide into Red Dog Creek, which flows into the Wulik River, the primary source of drinking water for Kivalina.  Other dangerous pollutants that the company releases to the environment at the mine and port are lead, cadmium, and zinc. 
            Red Dog Mine has a long history of operations that damage the environment.  In addition to permit violations addressed in today’s letter, Teck Cominco recently entered into a settlement with federal and state agencies over the mine’s operating practices that caused extensive heavy metal contamination of tundra.  The mine has also had a number of major spills of zinc and lead concentrate from trucks transporting materials from the mine to the port site along the 52-mile long haul road.
             Because the state has turned a blind eye to Teck Cominco’s consistent failure to meet its permit limits, the Kivalina Relocation Planning Committee has stepped in to make sure that the company obeys the law.  The citizens are asking the company to meet its permit limits in the future, and are seeking up to $88,000,000 in fines, $27,500 for each violation, as allowed by federal law.  The fines will not go to the residents of Kivalina, but to the U.S. Treasury.  “This is not about the money,” says Joseph Swan, a village elder who is a member of the Relocation Planning Committee, “It’s for our livelihood.  We depend on the river and the ocean for food for our families.”
            The citizens are represented in the action by the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that provides legal assistance to grassroots groups in communities of color and poor communities that are facing environmental hazards.  “This is a company with four years worth of permit violations documented and reported to EPA.  If EPA were actually protecting the residents of Kivalina, it would have jumped on this case years ago,”says Luke Cole, the director of the organization and the lead attorney on the case, “The company has violated the law and admitted to it, thousands of times.  This is an ideal case to bring under citizen suit provisions because the violations are so well documented.”
            If Teck Cominco doesn’t address its permit violations, and if EPA or the state don’t launch enforcement actions, KRPC can file suit in federal court 60 days from July 12.