Don't sacrifice the Clean Water Act

Letter to the editor

Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006

It's not hard to understand why officials at Coeur d'Alene Mine Corp. might be upset that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to take a closer look at Kensington's lake-based tailings disposal plan.

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Here's a company that had done its homework way in advance. Coeur or its agents were successful in lobbying the Bush administration and the Army Corps of Engineers to reclassify mine waste as "fill" to design a tailings wastefield plan that would fill in Lower Slate Lake. The rules were all reworded with no problem, and it looked like the fix was in.

There was only one catch: This change of rules to the Clean Water Act had never been tested in court. The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the Clean Water Act - but just barely, no thanks to Bush or his hand-picked judicial minions.

In Alaska, Gov. Frank Murkowski was busy doing the same thing by instructing the Department of Environmental Conservation to tweak mixing-zone rules and lower water-quality standards how ever they could. The hamstringing of the Department of Fish and Game, by moving the habitat division under the Department of Natural Resources where the administration could keep it squelched, is part of the same plan: The fix was in.

Coeur has been careful to grease every palm from A to WXYZ. Coeur's overall style has been, "What's your price?" To Coeur's surprise, when it came to a historic precedent that could set the stage for all future mining projects in the United States and Alaska, groups such as the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Earth Justice, Lynn Canal Conservation and the Sierra Club did not have a price. It seems that everybody recognizes that this mine could be an important addition to the local economy. But for many, the bottom line is that people are not willing to sacrifice 30 years of success with the Clean Water Act every time a mining corporation wants to boost its bottom line. Do it right, or don't do it.

Joseph Sebastian


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