Hinterland Green

Saturday, July 4, 2009

SHOCK: Supreme Court Ruling Says Lethal Mining Waste Can Be Dumped in Lakes

Photo via Flathead Basin

The US Supreme Court's latest ruling will undoubtedly shock environmentalists. The court has decided that the Clean Water Act should not prevent mining companies from dumping their toxic waste into lakes, even with full knowledge that doing so will exterminate every trace of life within. This is absolutely reprehensible, but, unfortunately it's legal. SCOTUS' decision will allow Coeur Alaska Inc, a gold mining company, to dump 4.5 million tons of waste into Lower Slate Lake. What I find absolutely infuriating is the fact that the mining company and the Supreme Court are well aware of the devastating implications of this ruling -- the literal extermination of all life in the lake.

How did this all start?

In 2005, Coeur Alaska applied for a permit to dump 4.5 million tons of slurry waste -- toxic stuff that likes to break out of containment areas. They applied to the Army Corps of Engineers, overseen then by the Bush administration, which granted the permit with full knowledge that the dumping would eliminate all life in the lake and leave permanent environmental degradation. Some environmental groups learned 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.

Enter the Supreme Court, after two more years of appeals, essentially overturning the Court of Appeals' ruling. Ahoy, dump away, the ruling basically said.

Possible Precedent for Unregulated Dumping.

The biggest problem here isn't that 4.5 million tons of waste are going to be dumped into a lake in Alaska. It is the fact that this ruling 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.
There's a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The EPA could decide that the ruling affects its ability to keep US waters safe, though the agency has only said thus far that is is looking into the matter. This ruling by the Supreme Court is a shame and it is amazing that it has managed to fly below the mainstream media radar. SCOTUS has basically said that the safety of US lakes and rivers aren't that important.