Today, the Supreme Court issued a decision upholding the US Environmental Protection Agency’s duty to prevent the state of Alaska from weakening air pollution protections at the Red Dog Mine, a zinc mine located in northwest Alaska about 100 miles from the Arctic Circle. The decision affirms EPA’s authority to protect clean air when the state fails to require adequate pollution control.
“This ruling prevents states from sacrificing clean air for the sake of big business. It is an important victory for all Americans because it protects clean air not only in Alaska, but also in other states that feel the effects of air pollution,” said Michael LeVine, attorney for Earthjustice.
In this case, the State of Alaska found that the Red Dog Mine was required to apply certain technology to minimize air pollution from its power generators. It found that the technology was technically feasible, environmentally preferable, and economically affordable. Nonetheless, in response to the mine operators’ insistence, it later weakened the permit to allow technology that is only about one third as clean.
The Supreme Court found that EPA had the authority and obligation to step in and prevent the state from going back on its original determination. In Alaska, the ruling ensures protection of pristine air, national parks, and wildlife refuges. In other states, the ruling protects residents from the effects of major polluting facilities, such as power plants, that are upwind and may be out-of-state.
“The decision will prevent Alaska, and other states, from selling out clean air in order to promote big business,” said LeVine.
Michael LeVine is a Juneau-based attorney for Earthjustice. Together with attorneys from other organizations, he submitted a friend of the court brief on behalf of Environmental Defense, National Parks Conservation Association, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, and Alaska Community Action on Toxics. The brief supported EPA’s efforts to assure minimum air pollution at the Red Dog Mine.