Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Quick and passionate versus deliberate and serious. The state made the right call revoking the VCUP

It is natural in this day and age to want what you want – now. Just do it. Why wait? Git ‘er done. While that might feel good in the short term, it doesn’t always work in the long run. Two examples of how not thinking things through in a deliberate manner might end up in a train wreck – one national and one on the state and local level.

On the national stage, people are talking about how former Defense Secretary Robert Gates preferred the style of George W. Bush to Barack Obama. Gates apparently preferred the Bush warm passion for a project as opposed to the cool deliberation of Obama. Now of course that Bush passion led to some disastrous decisions that put this country into a war that didn’t have anything to do with the pretenses of his rational to invade a country that did nothing to us. It cost us thousands of American and foreign lives along with billions and billions of dollars in wasted money that could have been spent on productive things in this country. But at least he was passionate. Obama on the other hand took his time and debated various strategies for an Afghanistan policy and basically came down on the side of Gates but he didn’t show a visceral passion for his decision. Maybe for some people, making decisions about war is chilling. They should be. Anyway, the point being that right decisions are usually made better with time and deliberation.

On the state and local scene, I’m looking at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s initial approval of the application for the U.S. Energy VCUP (Voluntary Clean Up Plan) for the old Keystone mine that was submitted last fall. The approval came relatively quickly and quietly with no public notice or debate. It too came under some questionable pretenses that were included in the U.S. Energy application. Somewhat strangely, the application was made during a time when lines of communication between the mining company and the town were supposedly as open and congenial as ever. Hmmm.
So when the “public” stumbled upon the approval at the end of last year, the state agency did the responsible thing. At the request of several local groups, it took a step back and suspended the approval while it looked at the circumstances as seen by the community. Last week, it made the bold decision to revoke the original application approval. That step forward could not have been an easy decision.
The local stakeholders that led this charge – HCCA, the Red Lady Coalition and the town of Crested Butte – all indicated that there might be a place for a VCUP in an eventual clean-up of the old Keystone mine site, but a lot more information needed to be compiled before anything like that begins.
The initial approval came quickly in part because the U.S. Energy application looked sound and appeared to have buy-in from other stakeholders like the Forest Service. It didn’t. Hmmm. So the state took a bold step and didn’t pussyfoot around in its revocation of the original approval. The notice to the mining company was sent by the Attorney General’s office. It laid out specific parameters for a possible re-application.
There seem to be obvious conflicting goals in this process between the community and U.S. Energy. It appears that the primary goal of U.S. Energy is to get out from under the expensive burden of operating the wastewater treatment plant on Mt. Emmons. The primary goal of the community is to protect its water and make sure that contaminated water isn’t allowed to poison the local creeks and watersheds.
The state’s most recent decision makes it clear that U.S. Energy can pursue a legitimate application for a mine clean-up but it has to involve the public, look ahead to ramifications of shutting down the treatment plant in favor of a passive water treatment program, monitor that program for years and have a contingency plan in place in case it doesn’t work. Those are all smart things. They won’t be quick and easy things but it imposes a seriousness to the process that was missing last fall.

Any new process will be based not on the passion and simple idea of basically cleaning up a contaminated mine site, but on taking the time to consider the consequences of how it is done and the long-term impacts it will have on this community. Ultimately a VCUP might be part of a long-term solution. Maybe. But this recent decision by the state is the right thing to do for this valley and this community. Taking the time to be deliberate and thorough is important to everyone and the right way to proceed.
Thank you.

   

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