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Rob Perks

Rob Perks

Posted: June 23, 2009 04:18 PM

Supreme Court Ruling Has Implications for Mountaintop Removal


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It does not bode well that the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ruled 6-3 in favor of treating America's waterways like dumps.  Specifically, the Court decided that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can legally permit the disposal of polluted wastewater from a gold mine into an Alaskan lake.  The proposed Kensington Gold Mine, in the Berners Bay region near Juneau, would discharge 210,000 gallons per day of "treated" mine tailings directly into Lower Slate Lake.  Over the course of the mine's 10-15 years of operations, that adds up to about 4.5 million tons of toxic waste that will kill all the fish and nearly all other aquatic life.  

(Photo by J. Henry Fair)

I'm no lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, so feel free to analyze the gory details of this legal travesty in this article on the decision.

Now, the reason the Court sided with the Corps -- and contrary to the purpose of the Clean Water Act -- is because of a rule change invoked by the Bush administration back in 2002 that expanded the definition of the term "fill material" to include mining waste.  This is the very same regulatory dirty trick that the Corps relies on to permit massive stream "valley fills" in Appalachia associated with mountaintop removal coal mining.

But this disappointing Supreme Court ruling doesn't have to be the end of the issue.  You see, the Obama administration can save that Alaskan lake from irrevocably pollution -- and all the mountains and valleys in Appalachia from destruction -- simply be reversing the bad Bush "fill" rule.  Recent actions by the Obama administration to crack down on mountaintop removal fall far short of actually ending mountaintop removal, which is the only solution to this abomination. 

In addition, legislation pending in both houses of Congress would also effectively put a stop to mountaintop removal by overruling the 2002 fill rule -- thereby preventing the Corps from permitting waste dumps in America's waterways. This Thursday, the Senate will hold a hearing on one of those bills, the bi-partisan Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696), co-sponsored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

I'll be live blogging the Senate hearing.  Meantime, you can help by urging your Senators to support this bill.       

(Photo by J. Henry Fair)

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.