Supreme Court’s ‘Golden’ Ruling

Jan 12, 2009 3:36pm

ABC News’ Stu Schutzman reports:

There’s a curious case before the Supreme court today, curious because of the way it’s being argued. Ted Olson, former Bush Solicitor General, represents a gold mining concern which wants to dump its waste material, known as tailings, into a lake smack in the middle of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Olson concedes that dumping millions of gallons of this stuff into the lake will virtually kill all its aquatic life. He’s arguing that once the mining operation is completed, the lake can be restocked.

"It will be a bigger lake," he says, "with more life than before."

I’m neither a scientist, a minor nor an environmentalist, but it sounds to me like Olson’s making the argument to kill the lake in order to save it. Where have we heard that before?

Traditionally, these tailings have been placed in dry storage at the mine’s  expense. That’s how it works under the Clean Water Act of 1972. But in 2002 the Bush Administration cut the coal mining industry some slack in its dumping practices and the gold folks apparently looked to capitalize.

In 2005, Coeur Alaska Inc got a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to dump their waste metal into Alaska’s Lower Slate Lake. Only on the permit it’s not called waste metal or tailings but "fill." Presumably, harmless fill. Justice Souter, seemingly not amused, said that was an attempt to define away the problem.

Environmentalists are livid, concerned that if the court rules with the gold mine, no lake or waterway in the country is immune. As I said, it’s a curious argument and I for one am very curious to see how the court comes down on this one.

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