Alaskan Gold Mine Wants to Fill Lake With Mine Waste: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments

lower slate lake image
For those with a penchant for following the Supreme Court, or frankly anyone who cares about waterways in the United States, there's a case just begun which could set a precedent for how mining waste can or cannot be disposed of in rivers, streams or lakes. The case in question (or more properly cases) is Coeur Alaska v. The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, and Alaska v. The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. At issue is whether Coeur Alaska, which operates the Kensingtonˆ Gold Mine can dump mine tailings into nearby Lower Slate Lake. Here's a quick synopsis of the first day's testimony:

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
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