Agency backs change in law opposed by environmentalists |

Agency backs change in law opposed by environmentalists

Brendan Riley

CARSON CITY (AP) – Federal concerns about a 2005 law limiting public involvement in many state licensing hearings have prompted the head of Nevada’s Division of Environmental Protection to say the law should be revised.

Leo Drozdoff said Monday the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office in San Francisco advised him that the law “could cause problems” for the state’s delegated authority to oversee federal anti-pollution programs.

Drozdoff contacted the federal EPA after it was asked by Great Basin Mine Watch to take over the environmental protection programs. The citizen watchdog group’s move followed a state decision that limited its efforts to stop pollution from the old Big Springs gold mine in Elko County.

Drozdoff said there have been some abuses of the appeal process by groups that come before his agency, but most appeals “are on the merits and are a necessary part of the public process.”

If the little-known 2005 law is interfering with public participation that’s required under federal law and the state’s delegated programs could be affected, “then that’s problematic and it needs to be revised,” he added.

The issue is expected to come before the state Environmental Commission at a meeting that will be held prior to the 2007 Legislature, and Drozdoff said his sense is that the commission will favor some changes in the law. He added that the federal EPA will be asked to put its concerns in writing. He also said his agency’s standard for public involvement prior to the 2005 law change was more open than those in many other states.

Besides its request to the federal EPA, Great Basin Mine Watch filed a district court petition to overturn a recent ruling that limited challenges by groups trying to ensure that Nevada mines and other businesses meet pollution control standards.

The Environmental Commission had agreed with the DEP and the state attorney general’s office that the mine watch group lacked legal standing to challenge renewal of a water pollution control permit for the old Big Springs Mine in Elko County.

The decision was based on terms of the 2005 law that limited participation in many government agency proceedings to those who would benefit financially from issuance of a license. Great Basin said that creates the “absurd” result of excluding anyone who would be harmed if a license was issued.

Great Basin is trying to force owners of the closed-down Big Springs Mine to meet tougher pollution standards. They argue the mine’s 12 open pits and six waste disposal areas are leaking heavy metals, arsenic, salt and other pollutants into streams that feed the north fork of the Humboldt River.

The north fork cuts through the Toiyabe National Forest in the Independence Range, a popular hunting and fishing area. Fish in the river include the Lahontan cutthroat trout, a threatened species.

The 2005 law change got little or no publicity during the 2005 session. State Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, has said she will try to ensure public access through changes in the 2007 Legislature to SB428, the 2005 law.

Jim Wadhams, a lobbyist with mining industry clients who says he pushed the 2005 legislation on behalf of independent insurance agents, claims that he didn’t envision the tactic used by the DEP to block the Great Basin appeal.

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