Spring 2009 Environmental Advocate Newsletter
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Spring 2009 Newsletter

Bristol Bay Residents Ask Supreme Court to Uphold Dumping Ban on Toxic Mine Wastes

Decision Will Determine Whether Pebble Mine Can Legally Pollute the Headwaters of the World’s Largest Sockeye Salmon Fishery

Trustees for Alaska, representing Native villages and commercial and sport fishermen in the Bristol Bay area, filed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” brief calling on the United States Supreme Court to uphold a lower court decision banning the discharge of toxic mine wastes directly into federally-regulated waters.

The case before the Supreme Court is an appeal of a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision involving the Kensington Mine, a gold mine in Southeast Alaska approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the Corps of Engineers violated the Clean Water Act when it issued a permit to Kensington’s operators to discharge chemical-laden wastewater directly into near-by Lower Slate Lake, knowing that the deadly stew would kill all fish and virtually everything else in the 23-acre lake. The Ninth Circuit held that dumping toxic mine wastes into U.S. waters comes under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency, which flatly prohibits such discharges.

The brief points out that overturning the Kensington decision would open the way for operators of the vastly larger Pebble Mine to dump wastes into streams and lakes of the Bristol Bay watershed, potentially devastating one of Alaska’s – and the nation’s – most productive fisheries. The importance of this decision cannot be overstated. Bristol Bay is a rare natural treasure that generates profitable and sustainable industries, integral to both Alaska’s economy and Alaska Natives’ traditional hunting and fishing grounds.

Prior to drafting this brief, those of us working on it traveled to Native villages near the proposed Pebble Mine to hear first-hand the deeply-held fears that residents express about what the mine would do to their subsistence way of life.

Read the rest of this article and all of the Spring 2009 Environmental Advocate Newsletter.