Bristol Bay Residents Ask Supreme Court To Uphold Ban on Dumping Toxic Mine Wastes into U.S. Waters

Nov 14, 2008
trustees

The Kensington Mine Decision Will Determine Whether Pebble Mine’s Wastes Can Legally Be Dumped into the Headwaters of the World’s Largest Sockeye Salmon Fishery

Lawyers for Native villages and commercial and sport fishermen in the Bristol Bay area today asked the United States Supreme Court to uphold a lower court decision banning the discharge of toxic mine wastes directly into federally regulated waters.

Public interest lawyers from Anchorage-based Trustees for Alaska, which represents several Bristol Bay communities and fishing interests concerned about the proposed Pebble Mine, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Washington, D.C., calling on the Supreme Court to affirm last year’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the Kensington Mine case.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the Clean Water Act when it issued a permit to operators of the Kensington Gold Mine in Southeast Alaska to discharge chemical-laden wastewater directly into near-by Lower Slate Lake, knowing that the effect would be to kill all fish and virtually everything else in the 23-acre lake. The court held that dumping toxic mine wastes into U.S. waters is under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency, which prohibits such discharges. Coeur Alaska, the Kensington Mine operator, appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, and today’s brief was filed in connection with that appeal.

The brief filed today points out that overturning the Kensington decision would open the way for operators of the vastly larger Pebble Mine to dump wastes into streams and lakes of the Bristol Bay watershed, potentially devastating one of Alaska’s – and the nation’s – most productive fisheries.

“Bristol Bay is a rare natural treasure that generates profitable and sustainable industries, integral both to Alaska’s economy and Alaska Natives’ traditional hunting and fishing grounds,” the brief declares.

“The Pebble Mine’s unprecedented size and complexity brings unprecedented risk to Bristol Bay’s renewable resources, and underscores the need to continue to enforce EPA’s zerodischarge performance standard” for mines like Kensington and Pebble. “Should Pebble mine be allowed to bypass that standard and obtain [an Army Corps] permit to discharge froth-flotation wastewater and tailings as ‘fill material’ directly into the lakes and headwater streams of the Bristol Bay watershed, the risks posed to the unique fish and wildlife resources of Bristol Bay, and all those who depend on them, would be substantial.”

Click here to read the full press release.

Click here to read the brief.