|Screenshot: Alaska Dispatch story gets linked on Drudge|
On September 5th, 2013, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell reacted with outrage over the revelation that an armed SWAT team comprised of eight men wearing body armor and jackets emblazoned with POLICE in big, bold letters, operating under the direction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have been conducting raids on miners in Interior Alaska under the guide of checking "water quality", and had demanded an investigation although no one was arrested or cited as a result. All eight were federal officers except for one state DEC agent. The operation, conducted in the Fortymile mining district near Chicken during the week of August 19-23, was conducted by the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force, which is comprised of 10 state and federal agencies. The enforcement wings of the EPA, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) participated in the effort; other agencies identified included the FBI, the Coast Guard, and the Department of Defense. Background stories documenting the dispute were published by Alaska Dispatch and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
As a result, Governor Parnell has ordered an investigation into the practices of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Environmental Crimes Unit and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Criminal Investigations Division. He issued the following statement:
“With a mere last minute notification to our DEC commissioner, Alaska’s attorney general, and the Department of Public Safety, the EPA, BLM and a DEC investigator took it upon themselves to swoop in on unsuspecting miners in remote Alaska. This level of intrusion and intimidation of Alaskans is absolutely unacceptable. I will not tolerate any state agency’s participation in this sort of reckless conduct. There are many unanswered questions and I will seek a special counsel to get to the bottom of this matter and work to ensure it never happens again.”
The Miners' Account: Miners from the Chicken area -- a gold mining town of just 17 full-time residents and dozens of seasonal miners off the Taylor Highway -- said that during the third week of August they were surprised by groups of four to eight armed officers, who swarmed onto their mining claims with little or no warning. The officers were armed and wearing body armor. They were part of the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force and were there to check for violations of section 404 of the Clean Water Act, according to several miners who were contacted by the group. Section 404 governs water discharges into rivers, streams, lakes and oceans. The task force checks to ensure that the water used by miners to wash away the rocks and expose gold deposits is allowed to settle in ponds before it's discharged back into streams or creeks, so that mud and rocks don’t pollute clean waterways and kill fish. While the miners acknowledge that compliance exams are normal, inspectors normally come unarmed and simply identify problems. They are demanding a September 14th meeting with the EPA, the state, and the members of the Alaska's Congressional delegation to discuss the task force’s tactics.
The EPA's Response: Initially, the EPA refused to publicly explain why it used armed officers as part of what it called a “multi-jurisdictional” investigation of possible Clean Water Act violations in the area. One Senate staffer says the EPA decided to send in the task force armed and wearing body armor because of information it received from the Alaska State Troopers about “rampant drug and human trafficking going on in the area". However, the Troopers deny ever telling the Feds about any drug problem, locals deny that there is any drug problem, and Senator Lisa Murkowski thinks the EPA deliberately concocted the drug story. But in response to Gov. Parnell's statement, Doug Parker, director of the EPA's criminal investigation division, said Parnell's request is under evaluation and there was no response to it yet, although he noted that the EPA has an entirely different perspective about the matter. Parker also disputed Parnell's contention that the involvement by some state agencies came after a last-minute notification, explaining that the agencies have been engaged in the planning for months, and that meetings with the miners were cordial and there are ongoing safety concerns.
Reaction: The story has triggered an explosion of reaction on Alaska Dispatch, with 747 comments appended as of this post. Part of the interest was generated by the fact that the Drudge Report linked their story on their website. Most people vigorously decry the Federal reaction and cite it as an example on how the so-called "War on Drugs" and its companion "War on Terror" has become a "War on Freedom". Once again, the Federal government is proving itself to be its own worst enemy.