Photo via Flathead Basin
In a ruling that will shock and dismay environmentalists everywhere, the US Supreme Court decided that the Clean Water Act shouldn't prevent mining companies from dumping their toxic waste into lakes--even with full knowledge that doing so will exterminate every trace of life within.It's absolutely appalling, and now, it's legal. The court's decision will allow Coeur Alaska Inc, a gold mining company, to dump 4.5 million tons of waste into Lower Slate Lake. And that bit about extermination above, that's no exaggeration--the mining company, environmental groups, and even the Supreme Court are all well aware that dumping the waste will literally extinguish all life in the lake.
It's just, the defense goes, that it's the easiest way to get rid of it. And it's "less environmentally damaging than other options." Say what? Okay, before I get ahead of myself, here's how the whole thing happened:
Mining Waste Case Origin
In 2005, Coeur Alaska applied for a permit to dump 4.5 million tons of slurry waste--you know, that toxic stuff that's full of good stuff like arsenic and that likes to break out of containment areas (though it's different than coal ash). They applied to the Army Corps of Engineers, overseen then by the Bush administration, which doled out the permit with full knowledge that the dumping would eliminate all life in the lake and leave permanent environmental degradation. But some green groups got wind of the situation, and sued, saying the Bush administration was violating the Clean Water Act with the action. The US Court of Appeals agreed, and promptly negated the permit in 2007.
Now, after two more years of appeals, the Supreme Court has overturned the Court of Appeals' ruling. Dump away, says the ruling.
A Precedent for Unregulated Dumping?
Now, the biggest problem here isn't that 4.5 million tons of waste are going to be dumped into a lake in Alaska, believe it or not. It's that the case could set a precedent for unregulated dumping in the future.
The New York Times reports:
"If a mining company can turn Lower Slate Lake in Alaska into a lifeless waste dump, other polluters with solids in their wastewater can potentially do the same to any water body in America," said Trip Van Noppen, president of the environmental advocacy group Earthjustice, whose lawyer argued the case before the court.
That's what makes the decision so horrifying. There's a glimmer of hope that the EPA could decide that the ruling affects its ability to keep US waters safe, but as of yet, the agency has only said that it's looking into the matter.
It's a truly alarming case, and an unfortunate one in regards to the safety of US lakes and rivers.