Air Quality Permit Raises Ire

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has given the go ahead for an air quality permit for Usibelli Coal’s Wishbone Hill mine near Palmer.  The move has been met with outrage by members of the Castle Mountain Coalition, an anti-coal group in the Matanuska Valley.

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“It’s pretty clear to us that the Department of Environmental Conservation is bowing to pretty intense political pressure,” Jaime Duhamel, the Coalition’s program director, said. “They have not approved this permit two times before, not much had changed in this third round, and so their approval of it is more of an indication of political pressure to approve one way or another to make development happen whether it makes sense or not.”

Duhamel charges that DEC used air quality data from 1990s Eagle River, not Palmer, in making the decision.

DEC’s air quality permit writer Aaron Simpson says the permit takes into account the proposed mine’s pollution emission rate. Simpson says the permit meets state and federal criteria, so DEC has the obligation to issue the air quality permit.

“”The department developed this minor permit under the authority of our state regs, which contain provisions designed to protect public health,” Simpson said. “The National Ambient Air Quality Standards are health based standards and they are set at levels designed to protect public health.”

The air quality permit does not allow Usibelli to move forward on mining at Wishbone Hill. The actual mining permit is in dispute at this time.