High Court rules in favor
of gold mining project
June 22, 2009
(SitNews) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers has authority to permit Kensington mine,
a gold mining project near Juneau, to deposit rock waste into
Lower Slate Lake in the Tongass National Forest.
Conservation groups had sued
Coeur Alaska, claiming the mine's owners should have applied
for a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency. The court
found that the law places the proper responsibility for the permits
under the Corps, not the EPA.
Today's ruling reversed a decision
of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and confirmed the validity
of a previously issued permit from the Corps of Engineers for
disposal of tailings. The project is being developed by Coeur
d'Alene Mines Corporation.
The state supported Coeur's legal efforts to move the project
ahead at every level of court review, including intervening in
the lawsuit at the outset, litigating the case in the Ninth Circuit,
filing a petition asking for review by the Supreme Court, and
briefing the case in the Supreme Court on the merits.
Even securing Supreme Court review was an uphill battle, because
the federal government itself, whose permit the Ninth Circuit
had invalidated, did not seek review. Only the State of Alaska
and Coeur filed petitions.
In addition, the case involved complex issues of how to interpret
and apply the federal Clean Water Act, issues which led the Supreme
Court to take the unusual step of ordering the parties to file
supplemental briefs a few weeks ago.
Voting in favor of Coeur Alaska
in the 6-3 decision were Justices Kennedy, John Roberts, Clarence
Thomas, Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer and Antonin Scalia. Dissenting
were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Stevens.
The high court's decision will
allow work to resume at Kensington. The state will continue to
provide support through the Department of Labor's workforce training
and apprenticeship programs.
The Kensington mine is located
45 miles northwest of Juneau. Couer estimates the mine will be
brought into production by the second half of 2010. The mine
is expected to produce as many as 150,000 ounces of gold per
year during its early stages of operation. Over the life of the
mine, Kensington is expected to yield more than 1 million ounces
Governor Sarah Palin today
welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Kensington
mine. "This is great news for Alaska," Governor Palin
said. "Today's ruling is a green light for responsible resource
development. Kensington will produce as many as 370 well-paying
jobs. We truly appreciate Coeur's tenacity in pursuing the project
and its dedication to hiring Alaskans to work at the mine."
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also welcomed the U.S. Supreme
Court's decision reaffirming the validity of Coeur Alaska's permit
to dispose of mine tailings at the Kensington gold mine near
"I've long agreed with
all of the federal agencies that had reviewed the Kensington
plan, that it was environmentally, the best option," Murkowski
said. "Now the Supreme Court has found that it's 100 percent
compliant with the law."
U. S. Senator Mark Begich said
in a prepared statement, "Today's decision is good for Southeast
Alaska jobs and brings clarity to a 20-year-old dispute. It's
time for the federal agencies to work with the Kensington team
to move the project forward."
"This is particularly
important given the current economic downturn in Southeast Alaska.
I expect Coeur will honor their commitments to train and employ
Alaskans while developing this resource in a responsible manner.
The hundreds of jobs this project is likely to create will be
welcome at just the right time," said Begich.
Rep. Don Young (R-AK) said
in a prepared statement,"Today's decision by the Supreme
Court is a decision that favors people over unfounded causes
and it is 100% correct. Coeur followed all of the appropriate
procedures put into place to ensure that the Kensington Mine
project was done properly; that this was ever even brought to
court is a testament to the lengths extremists will go to stop
sound development. Their case was built on misinformed, baseless
grounds which the Supreme Court recognized."
"The jobs the mining industry creates are among the highest-paying
in the private sector." said Young. "The groups that
sought to stop this project were sadly willing to kill an entire
industry, taking with it countless jobs. I respectfully suggest
that these career protesters turn in their picket signs and find
themselves some honest work just like the people they are trying
to hurt have done."
"This is a great victory for the people of Alaska and for
the mining industry that employs so many Americans," said
Not all were pleased with today's
decision. Concerned citizens across the nation fear this ruling
will open the door for the nation's lakes and streams to be used
as mine tailings dumps, and the decision allows Coeur to walk
away from the less controversial, more environmentally sound
paste tailings disposal option for the Kensington.
"Mining companies have operated for years without having
to dump toxic tailings into lakes," stated Rob Cadmus, Southeast
Alaska Conservation Council's sustainability and clean water
director. "It's a shame for Juneau and Americans across
the country that the Court allowed Coeur to put extra profits
over the health of our public waters. America deserves better
from those who want to profit at the expense of our clean water.
Quoting a news release from Southeast Alaska Conservation Council
and Earthjustice, "The rruling allows the Coeur d'Alene
Mines Corporation's Kensington gold mine near Juneau to pump
over 200,000 gallons per day of toxic wastewater slurry directly
into Lower Slate Lake above Berners Bay, a wildlife wonderland,
productive fishery, and popular local recreation area. The dumping,
which will take place over ten years, will eventually deposit
4.5 million tons of solids in the lake, killing nearly all its
"The purpose of the Clean Water Act is to keep America's
waters safe for drinking, fishing, and swimming," added
Tom Waldo of Earthjustice, who argued the case on behalf of the
Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), Lynn Canal Conservation,
and the Sierra Club. "The Act was intended to halt the practice
of using lakes, rivers, and streams as waste dumps. Today's decision
does not achieve these purposes."
According to Southeast Alaska
Conservation Council (SEACC) and Earthjustic, Coeur d'Alene Mines
and local conservation groups jointly developed plans for a less
environmentally damaging paste tailings alternative. Coeur nearly
completed the permitting process for the paste plan, but, just
months before final permits were set to be issued, Coeur abandoned
that plan to push its controversial lake dumping plan in the
"SEACC's goals have always been to protect the world-class
biological and recreational wonders of Berners Bay and to prevent
the Kensington from setting a dangerous precedent of using America's
clean water as a waste dump." stated Cadmus, "We're
still committed to these goals, and there is a practical, non-controversial
alternative that doesn't put our clean water or Berners Bay at
Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and Earthjustice noted
that for 30 years after the Clean Water Act was passed, "fill"
was defined as material placed in waters for construction purposes,
such as building a bridge or breakwater. The Bush Administration
changed this; they changed the definition of fill to allow for
the disposal of wastes, such as mining wastes. This rule change
is what has allowed for practices such as mountaintop removal
coal mining and the Kensington Mine's plan to dump mining waste
into Lower Slate Lake. At the Kensington, this rule change allowed
the skirting of EPA pollution standards that had prohibited direct
discharges of tailings from mines like the Kensington since 1975.
"Congress and the Obama administration should undo Bush's
rule change and put pollution standards back to what they were
for over 30 years." stated Waldo. This rule change can be
reversed either with a new rule issued by the Corps and EPA,
or by legislation. A bill already introduced in this Congress
by Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Dave Reichert (R-WA)
would, if passed, accomplish this task. The Clean Water Protection
Act, H.R. 1310, has 151 cosponsors.
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