Mining Official Pleads Guilty in Alaska to Making Illegal Discharges from the Platinum Creek Mine and for Making False Statements to Federal Officials
A former general manager of the Platinum Creek Mine in Platinum, Alaska, pleaded guilty today to three felony violations of the federal Clean Water Act, announced Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler of the District of Alaska.
Robert Pate, 63, of Spokane, Washington, entered his guilty pleas today in federal court in Anchorage, Alaska. Pate admitted to knowingly discharging wastewater from the Platinum Creek mine into Platinum/Squirrel Creek, without a Clean Water Act Permit, knowingly violating the conditions of XS Platinum Inc.’s Clean Water Act permit for discharges to the Salmon River and falsely reporting to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in the 2010 Annual Report for placer mining at the Platinum Creek Mine that there was “no discharge” during 2010, a statement Pate knew to be false.
Pate was XS Platinum Inc.’s general manager and a senior member of its office staff in Seattle, Washington, from February 2010 to June 2012. According to the plea agreement, Pate documented unpermitted discharges of turbid effluent process water into the Salmon River beginning on July 3, 2010. Turbid process water from the placer mining at the Platinum Creek Mine contained pollutants such as suspended particles and sediments and may have also included waste such as dissolved metals that posed a potential threat to aquatic life. After documenting the first discharges of turbid effluent process water, Pate supervised the construction of a ditch to divert the effluent directly into nearby Squirrel/Platinum Creek, also without a permit. Turbid discharges, which XS Platinum Inc. never reported to regulators as required, continued into the Salmon River for much of the remaining season. When Pate filed XSP’s annual water quality report in January 2011, he falsely wrote that the Platinum Creek Mine had experienced no discharges in 2010. The discharges continued in 2011.
“The defendant had a responsibility to ensure the wastewater at the Platinum Creek Mine was handled safely and responsibly but instead took specific actions that posed serious risks to the environment,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden. “By pleading guilty, the defendant has admitted responsibility and will be held accountable under our nation's environmental laws.”
“Enforcement of our environmental laws is a priority for federal law enforcement in Alaska,” said U.S. Attorney Loeffler. “It is essential to balance the importance of resource extraction to Alaska with the importance of doing it safely and in accordance with the law and regulations. Mr. Pate’s guilty pleas to federal felonies sends the proper message that there are consequences to illegal actions and we will vigilantly enforce environmental laws.”
“The wastewater produced at Platinum Creek Mine contained pollutants that posed a potential threat to both aquatic life and human health,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Jay M. Green of the EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Alaska. “As general manager of XS Platinum, the defendant knew first-hand about the discharges of mine wastewater into the Salmon River. Unpermitted discharges of turbidity and suspended solids have a negative impact on the diverse, complex and sensitive ecosystems contained in our Nation’s waters. Today’s plea demonstrates that if companies and their managers skirt environmental laws, EPA will hold them accountable.”
“This guilty plea highlights the importance that mining permittees adhere to the regulations that govern their operations, and how important it is for them to be open and transparent in their reporting obligations,” said State Director Bud Cribley of BLM-Alaska. “BLM continues to support the responsible development of federal public lands where appropriate. We are working closely with our state and federal partners as well as with the current claim owner to bring the Platinum Creek Mine back into production in a manner that will protect the Salmon River and restore it to a functioning condition.”
The Honorable Sharon Gleason set sentencing for Sept. 2, 2015, and will ultimately decide what sentence to impose. According to the plea agreement, the United States will recommend a sentence that will include both imprisonment and home confinement. Pate also agreed to pay a $10,000 fine.
The investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management Office of Law Enforcement and Security and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division. The case is being prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis of the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Alaska, Trial Attorney Todd S. Mikolop of the U.S. Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and U.S. EPA Regional Criminal Enforcement Counsel Dean Ingemanson.