Statement of Payal Sampat, EARTHWORKS, on Supreme Court ruling on mining waste disposal in water bodies
June 26, 2009
Washington, D.C., 6/26 - 6/26/2009 US and global waterways are at greater risk of industrial contamination following the US Supreme Court s ruling this week allowing a mining company to dump millions of gallons of toxic waste into an Alaskan lake. The Court's decision was based on a 2002 Bush-era policy that allows solid waste and contaminated materials to be dumped directly into lakes, streams and other water bodies. As Justice Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, the ruling contravenes the "core command" of the Clean Water Act. EARTHWORKS is deeply disappointed by the ruling and its negative implications for clean water.
The outdated 1872 Mining Law has given mining companies virtually free access to public lands, and metals mining remains the single largest industrial polluter in the US. Now, the Supreme Court has given the mining industry yet another free pass, by ruling that even the Clean Water Act does not apply at Alaska s Kensington mine. The mining company has acknowledged that its daily discharge of 210,000 gallons of toxic mine waste will decimate all fish and aquatic life in the lake.
This ruling places the United States outside of the growing international consensus that disposal of mine tailings into natural water bodies is unacceptable. The Norwegian Pension Fund has banned three metals mining companies from its investment portfolio specifically because of their destructive disposal of mine waste into water bodies. The largest mining company in the world, BHP Billiton, has a written policy against disposing tailings into rivers or the ocean at new mines. Mines that dispose of mine wastes into natural water bodies, such as Ok Tedi in Papua New Guinea, or Grasberg in Indonesia, provide cautionary evidence of the harmful results of this practice.
The United States must correct this serious misstep and protect its natural resources from long-term mining pollution. EARTHWORKS calls on the Obama administration and Congress to act promptly to ensure our nation's precious water resources are not destroyed by mine waste dumping. We urge the Army Corp of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a new rule to rectify this situation, or simply revise an informal EPA memo on the issue. HR 1310, the Clean Water Protection Act, introduced this Congress by Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Dave Reichert (R-WA), will also protect lakes and streams from irresponsible waste dumping."
For more information:
- Payal Sampat, Acting Executive Director, 202-887-1872x210
- Justice Ginsburg's dissent