Streams and Rivers Threatened by Toxic Mining Waste

Because of a recent Supreme Court case, Coeur Alaska Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, a mining company will be allowed to dump toxic mining waste into a pristine Alaskan lake, killing all aquatic life. The Court relied on a Bush administration rule that says that “filling” a waterbody with waste and contaminated materials – as opposed to plain old polluting it – is regulated by the Corps of Engineers (under section 404 of the Clean Water Act) instead of by the Environmental Protection Agency (under section 402 of the Clean Water Act).

American Rivers and other groups filed an amicus brief arguing unsuccessfully that the Clean Water Act’s section 402 for pollution control clearly governs the discharge of industrial mining pollution to our waters as it has for many years. The Court decision affects not only Lower Slate Lake but potentially all waters where a polluter has a discharge with solids that can now be characterized as “fill” – under this ruling and the Bush rule, the discharger could escape all pollution limits, yet another threat to clean water.

Fortunately – there are solutions – pick any one: The Environmental Protection Agency recently told the Corps to reevaluate the other, non-discharge options for waste disposal; the Obama Administration could reverse the Bush-era fill rule; and Congress could pass the Clean Water Protection Act to achieve the same result.