The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' announcement that dumping mine tailings into Lower Slate Lake is illegal is a victory for all Americans.
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In recent months, Juneau Empire readers and radio listeners have been bombarded with ads by Coeur Alaska. The ads have insisted that because regulatory agencies had approved the filling of Lower Slate Lake, it was therefore legal to do so. The ads have been just as relentless in criticizing Southeast Alaska conservationists for having the audacity to challenge an agency approval in court.
In the end, it isn't what Coeur, the Corps of Engineers, other public agencies, conservationists, or members of the general public think is or is not legal that matters most. What counts most is what gets decided in a court of law.
Although Coeur's ads suggest otherwise, it's a matter of public record that the company had earlier received all the government permits it needed to dispose of its tailings on an upland site that would pose less risk to aquatic resources. It was entirely Coeur's decision to abandon that option.
The court's announcement has implications that go well beyond the Kensington Mine. Folks across Alaska and the United States have been watching to see what kind of precedent this case would present for mines elsewhere. Fortunately, the court announcement confirms that the federal Clean Water Act is alive and well and is achieving the purpose for which it was originally passed by Congress.
If Coeur cannot afford to dispose of its mine tailings legally and in a way that minimizes damage to aquatic resources, Alaskans and their fellow Americans cannot afford for the company to do otherwise.
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