Setting the Record Straight on the Toxic Release Inventory

Every year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues a list called the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). And every year, the Red Dog Mine’s ranking on this report is misrepresented by various commentators, casting our operation in a negative light. So I would like to take this opportunity to clarify what the TRI ranking actually means.

Since 1998, Red Dog has been required to report to the Environmental Protection Agency the amount of rock and ore moved at the mine site. This is due to the very high naturally-occurring mineral grade found there – which is also what makes Red Dog such a world-class zinc mine.

Under the TRI rules, all of the rock dug up and moved to different parts of the mining area must be reported to the EPA because of its natural mineral content – even though these materials don’t actually leave the mine site. In fact, the word “release” in the Toxic Release Inventory doesn’t apply in the case of Red Dog as virtually none of the material is in fact “released”.

In other words, Red Dog’s high TRI ranking is simply a reflection of the large quantity of rock and other minerals we move within our operation and not an indication of any pollution or environmental impact.

In addition, all movement and storage of rock on the mine site is safely managed in specially-engineered facilities and strictly regulated under state and federal permits and regulations.

At Red Dog Operations, we take our responsibility to ensure the environmental sustainability of our activities very seriously, and are consistently working to further improve our performance. The mine is a true made-in-Alaska success story, developed through an innovative operating agreement between Teck and NANA. It supports hundreds of jobs in Northwest Alaska and is a significant contributor to the economy in the region and state.

The true story of Red Dog isn’t the inaccurate articles generated by the misleading TRI; it is the story of the opportunities the mine has helped create in the Northwest, and the strong environmental track record its employees have established together.

Wayne Hall
Superintendent, Environment and Community Relations
Red Dog Operations

Meeting with Alaskans

February was an exciting and eventful month, and the hard work has been so rewarding. The travel and events around Alaska allowed me to meet with many Alaskans and highlighted the talent, culture, and diversity we have in our State. I attended and presented at the Innovation Summit in Juneau. I met with voters in Juneau, Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Eagle River and discussed how we can build a better future for Alaska. We had wonderful support across Alaska from supporters hosting and attending fundraisers, meet-and-greets and volunteering. All of these experiences in the last month have been inspiring and a reminder that together we can bring new energy and ideas to Congress in 2018.

Thank you for being engaged and for your support of Alaska’s future!

Dimitri Shein
Anchorage, AK

It’s not about saving money, it’s about serving people

Around the Capitol, there has been talk about “the high cost of Medicaid” and what can be done about it. Just the other day legislation was introduced in the Senate that would institute work requirements for Medicaid recipients.

Let’s be clear: kicking the economically-vulnerable off Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) might be one way to reduce healthcare costs, but it is undoubtedly not the right way. And in the end, is very likely to cost ratepayers more. There is no honor in reducing enrollment when it means the neediest among us suffer even more. Our Medicaid system is a safety net which most of us in the legislature are lucky enough never to have needed.

In a recession, like the one we are in now, it is even more important to ensure that we don’t rend that net. For some it might mean that a family is only a medical disaster away from finding themselves on the street – damaging families and potentially costing us all more through unrecoverable costs to emergency rooms.

There are real problems with our healthcare system in this state, but it isn’t Medicaid, and it isn’t CHIP. Increases to these programs are symptoms of deeper problems. Rather than covering fewer people, to reduce State Medicaid costs, we need to both fix our economy so people have good jobs, and figure out how to make healthcare more accessible and affordable.

In Alaska, thirty-five percent of the total state budget is devoted to health care, and that number will continue to rise. It’s driving up costs to our education system as health care premiums take a bigger and bigger bite of our budget. Healthcare is affecting our local communities, our businesses, and nearly every aspect of our economy. At the same time, the recession has caused dramatic job loses forcing many Alaskans to turn to Medicaid for health coverage. It’s as simple as that.

Some legislators blame Medicaid rather than looking at these underlying issues. Further, they forget access to basic health care is a good thing, not a bad thing. The goal of Medicaid is to provide health insurance to low-income Americans. The benefits of this access go far beyond just preventative care, reducing the financial burden of chronic conditions, and of people using emergency rooms as their primary source of healthcare. It gives people access to financial security, making it easier to find work and stay employed because those covered can afford to get treatment. It also means that all of us with insurance pay less because we don’t have to cover uncompensated care.

This year, Medicaid will bring about $1.4 billion of federal funds into Alaska, money that rolls through our economy creating an even greater impact as dollars get spent and re-spent (some estimate as many as seven times in the state). This “multiplier” effect shores up our private economy as well.

The Department of Health and Social Services estimates that Medicaid expansion alone will bring an additional 3,700 jobs to Alaska by 2019, meaning an estimated $1.2 billion more in Alaskan salaries and wages, and $2.49 billion in increased economic activity across the state.

So, how do we continue to provide care and save lives while reducing the cost of healthcare? Alaskans are innovators, so let’s innovate. Let’s talk about bending the cost curve, rather than denying our fellow Alaskans basic healthcare.

Already, Alaska’s policy of separating out our “high-risk pool” of Medicaid patients has reduced costs for ratepayers and is a model for the rest of the country, with the full benefits still emerging. Another idea the state has been exploring is creating larger insurance pools to include all school districts and state employees, spreading out risk, buying in bulk, and driving down costs. This could save the state and school districts millions of dollars a year.

It is also time to examine the business model of our healthcare industry. Right now, doctors and hospitals make money when people are sick, rather than by keeping people healthy – an inherently flawed system. In Alaska, we could move away from expensive fee-for-service payment and towards “accountable care organizations” which are paid a set price to serve a set population, regardless of whether someone seeks care or not. They have a financial incentive to keep their patients healthy and out of costly hospitals – a win-win situation for business and people. Payments are linked to improved quality of care and reduced costs.

The best way to reduce the total need for Medicaid and CHIP is to get our economy back on track with a comprehensive fiscal plan which will provide a stable and safe Alaska – showing the private sector the stability they need to invest in our future for the long term. A key part of that functioning economy will be ensuring that we get control of our health care costs at the front end through lower prices and prevention rewards, and maintaining a security net for our citizens when times are tough.

Senators Begich (D-Anchorage) and Olson (D-Golovin)
Alaska State Legislature