March 27, 1998 in Nation/World

Basin Bill Revived To Give The State Cleanup Control Kempthorne Amendment Aimed At Removing Epa Oversight

By The Spokesman-Review

Federal legislation designed to clean up mining pollution in the Coeur d’Alene River basin was resurrected Thursday as an amendment to a Senate Superfund reform bill.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed by voice vote the amendment introduced by Sen. Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho.

The amendment is a modified version of fellow Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig’s basin cleanup bill, which was introduced last session. The legislation puts the responsibility for developing and implementing a cleanup plan on the state.

“This amendment brings cooperation where there is now polarization,” Kempthorne told the committee. “It’s vital that we get away from the litigation and gridlock that have plagued this process far too long.”

The legislation relies on a Coeur d’Alene Basin Commission to devise a plan “to restore, manage and enhance the natural recovery of the Coeur d’Alene basin … in a cost-effective manner” and submit it to the governor for approval within two years. The governor then would negotiate with mining companies and other parties potentially responsible for the pollution to determine their contribution to the cleanup.

Ultimately, any agreements made by the governor would have to be approved by a U.S. District Court. The legislation also allows for the appropriation of $5 million to Idaho to pay for the plan and the state’s share of the cleanup costs.

The amendment was greeted with disdain by Idaho’s environmental community.

“It does not bode well for future cleanup,” said Scott Brown of the Idaho Conservation League. “It undermines what EPA (the federal Environmental Protection Agency) is now undertaking. The fact is that EPA has beaten them to the punch.”

Last month, the EPA announced that it was using its authority under the Superfund law to examine the extent of pollution and develop a cleanup plan for the entire Coeur d’Alene River Basin. The process is expected to take two or three years, according to EPA officials.

Although the EPA has hired a mediator to involve all interested parties in the development of the plan, mining companies and Idaho politicians were dismayed by EPA’s action.

Local politicians fear the Superfund stigma will hurt business in the Coeur d’Alene area, while others are concerned that the EPA’s action could lead to more litigation under the Superfund law and a delay in the cleanup.

But Brown believes the EPA will bring more expertise and money to the job.

“If we have the choice between the EPA and Sen. Craig’s commission, we have to go with the EPA,” he said.

The state of Idaho has formed a Coeur d’Alene Basin Commission, which includes county commissioners, state bureaucrats, a tribal representative, industry and other Idaho interests. The commission has developed water quality plans that establish pollution limits for the Coeur d’Alene River, Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River as required under the Clean Water Act.

The state has not yet submitted the plans to the EPA for approval.

, DataTimes

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