Can Army Corps of Engineers Permit This Sort of Dumping?
The question put before the Court is this,
Does the Army Corps of Engineers have authority under section 404 of the Clean Water Act to grant a "fill material" permit for an industrial process wastewater discharge from a newly constructed ore beneficiation mill, when the discharge is prohibited by a new source performance standard adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency under section 306 of the Act?
Mining Company Calls Tailings "Fill"
Though Justice Souter went on to call the Couer Alaska's logic "Orwellian", the mining company argued that the mine tailings should more properly be called "fill"; after the mine was done with the lake the whole thing could be restocked with fish and ultimately be a bigger lake with more fish.
Bush Admin. Tries to Test Limits of Clean Water Act
Representing the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Earthjustice lawyer Tom Waldo said that permitting the mining company to dispose of waste in this manner would allow such dumping to occur throughout the United States. Waldo added,
The whole reason Congress passed the Clean Water Act was to stop turning our lakes and rivers into industrial waste dumps. The Bush Administration selected the Kensington Mine to test the limits of the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps [of Engineers] had never issued a permit like this before.
The Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling on the case by June.
More: Associated Press, Transcript of Oral Arguments, Earthjustice Case Brief
Lower Slate Lake map: Earthjustice
Canadian Government to "Reclassify" Lakes as Mining Dump Sites
Argentina Vetoes Law to Protect Glaciers, Favors Mining Projects
Mining Interests and Salmon Fishers Square Off in Bristol Bay