Juneau, AK - This week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided
to allow mining waste to be dumped into a lake in Alaska. Conservation
groups call it a major setback. They had argued that the federal
definition of "fill material" should not include solid forms of
pollution, and now, they're worried that any industry can skirt
environmental protection rules by calling its waste "fill material."
Tom Waldo, the Earthjustice attorney who argued the case,
says the ruling is disappointing, but it doesn't mean the Court wants
mines and factories dumping waste into lakes and rivers.
"The whole basis of the Supreme Court decision was that the Clean Water
Act is ambiguous and the regulations are ambiguous - and that just
cries out for clarification. Congress should clarify the Act, and the
Administration should clarify the rules."
One problem, says Waldo, is that the Court's decision shifts
responsibility for waste permits away from the EPA and gives it to the
Army Corps of Engineers, which does not apply the same strict water
quality rules. He hopes companies don't start lining up for Corps
"I am hopeful that the Obama Administration will take measures to
prevent that from happening. But, it certainly is what you would expect
industries to do in response to this decision."
There is an update to the Clean Water Act now in Congress; it has
bipartisan support and Waldo says it would strengthen the law. He says
the definition of "fill material" had been the same for 30 years until
the Bush administration changed it in 2002. He hopes the Supreme Court
decision prompts the Obama Administration to change it back. The Coeur
d'Alene Mining Company says, after it shuts down its Couer Alaska Mine
near Juneau, it will restock Lower Slate Lake with fish.