After years of appeals and court battles, an unprecedented case over the federal Clean Water Act will face the Supreme Court on Monday.
Local environmentalists organized against a plan by a gold mine nearby Juneau, Alaska to dump mining waste and rubble into a nearby lake. While the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council lost the original lawsuit to stop the plan in 2006, they later won the appeal with the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court now must decide whether mines should be prevented from storing their waste in water bodies, as specified in the Clean Water Act. Alaska issued a permit to the mine allowing it to dump waste in the lake, but environmentalists pointed out the discrepancy.
A ruling in either direction will have vast reprecusions for mining projects across the country. Another Alaskan mine in Southwest Alaska has been awaiting the completion of this court case to determine what to do with the waste from their copper and gold mining operation.
The state of Alaska has sided with mine owner Coeur Alaska Inc. and helped with the legal effort to undermine the Clean Water Act. Several members of congress have spoken out in opposition to Alaska’s position along with tribal and fishing organizations in the region. National organizations such as EarthJustice and the Sierra Club have also spoken out against the project.
If allowed, millions of tons of mining waste could be dumped in a beautiful mountain lake called Lower Slate Lake.
“There are other options for mine waste disposal for the Kensington Mine,” said Russell Heath, director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council back in 2005. “For example, Coeur’s approved 1997 mine project used a land-based disposal facility instead of dumping the tailings into a lake.”
The Supreme Court will hear Coeur Alaska Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council tomorrow.
“We feel confident and optimistic about this appeal,” said Tom Waldo, Earthjustice attorney representing the environmental groups. “We’re looking at it as an opportunity to have the Supreme Court clarify once and for all that mines cannot dump their tailings into lakes and rivers and streams.”
Photo of Lower Slate Lake before mining construction began, courtesy of EarthJustice.