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Mine waste, air pollution on Idaho agency’s expense concerns

The director of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality said Friday that the agency needs money to clean up or contain past mining waste.

John Tippets told the Legislature’s powerful budget-setting committee that among the problems is another collapse at the abandoned Triumph Mine in central Idaho. The state is financially responsible after agreeing to take control as part of a mining company’s bankruptcy deal.

Most of the cleanup projects are being paid for with federal money or endowments. But some money is coming out of the state’s general fund.

“It’s got to be done,” said Republican Sen. Steve Bair, the committee’s co-chairman, during a break in the meeting. “If we want to have a clean Idaho, we have to work at cleaning it up.”

Tippets is seeking about $400,000 for the Triumph Mine site.

He said the most recent collapse occurred in October, and the agency is looking at putting a third plug inside the mine to seal it and prevent contaminated water from leaking out.

Tippets also sought approval to spend $500,000 at the Bunker Hill Treatment Plant in northern Idaho. The state will take over operating the plant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency next year. Money to operate the plant comes from the Bunker Hill Water Treatment Endowment Fund managed by the Idaho Endowment Fund Investment Board. That fund currently has about $71 million.

The treatment plant is needed to keep lead, zinc, arsenic, and cadmium from reaching the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, where it could become a health and ecological risk.

Tippets also asked for approval to spend $2 million as part of on-going work to clean up the Coeur d’Alene Basin from past mining operations. That money is coming from $130 million of settlement fines to restore and remove hazardous wastes in the basin.

Tippets also told lawmakers the U.S. Department of Energy is ending a $500,000 annual payment for air pollution monitoring. Tippets said that money paid for a third of the state’s air quality program.

Tippets said the state is losing the money because emissions at the Idaho National Laboratory have dropped below the threshold requiring such a large payment. He asked lawmakers for about $280,000 to help pay for the air quality program.

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