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Nation's Waterways in Hands of Supreme Court

On this coming Monday - while the media are riveted by the upcoming inauguration - the fate of our nation’s waters will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in an Earthjustice case that has implications for rivers, lakes, and streams across the country.

The case concerns a gold mine north of Juneau, Alaska. The Army Corps of Engineers granted a permit for the mine to Coeur Alaska. One provision of the permit allows Coeur to deposit its mine tailings into Lower Slate Lake after raising the level of the lake by building a long earthen dam.

A 1982 Environmental Protection Agency rule forbids dumping mine wastes into waterways—so the Bush administration redefined the mine’s leftovers as "fill."

All agree that the tailings, fill or otherwise, would kill nearly all life in the lake. Coeur and the Corps insist that once the ore has been exhausted they’ll restore the lake to its former glory and where have we heard that before.

Tom Waldo, a veteran attorney in the Earthjustice Juneau office, has battled the mine for years, winning a string of victories on behalf of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation, and the Sierra Club, and he will be arguing the case at the Supreme Court on Monday. Here’s their brief  .

That the high court agreed to review the case is troubling—if it had left the appeals court decision alone all would have been well. Should the Court uphold the Corps’ authority to discharge mine waste in a pristine waterway, all waters everywhere could be at risk and the Clean Water Act would be in a shambles. Should the worst happen, defenders of the country’s waterways would almost certainly turn to Congress and the Obama administration for relief.

And by the way, we will be blogging Monday from the Supreme Court. To get an automatic feed, subscribe to "unEarthed" by clicking the RSS button at the bottom of this page.