Court ruling forces distinction between toxic mine tailings and harmless fill; move may protect Alaska's vital Bristol Bay ecosystem
by Craig Weatherby
We are surprised and very pleased that a top federal court has issued a preliminary ruling that could help block the vast Pebble Mine complex proposed for siting near Alaska's vital Bristol Bay ecosystem.
As we've written, this massive mine region is a misconceived threat to a watershed critical to salmon and other fisheries and to native peoples and the regions' growing recreation industry (See “Opposition to Salmon-Risking Mine Gains Momentum” and “Alaska's “Fish Basket” Opened to Oil and Gas Leasing”).
Bristol Bay hosts almost one-third of Alaska's salmon population and the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery.
Last month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers erred in allowing a gold mine company to dump toxic tailings from Kensington Mine into a lake near Juneau, Alaska, hundreds of mile to the south.
The Kensington Mine permit was a key test case for the Bush Administration's interpretation of language in federal law and regulation, and this major ruling against it should help halt similar operations elsewhere in the U.S.: especially the proposed Pebble Mine upriver from Alaska's Bristol Bay.
Like the Kensington Mine, the Pebble Mine would dump vast quantities of toxic mine tailings into holding lakes. A broad coalition of business, environmental, fishing and native groups is opposing the mine because of its damaging potential.
The Boston Globe today quoted Lindsey Bloom, a Bristol Bay fishing boat captain, saying, “This is it. Do we value a life-sustaining resource or do we value gold? You can't eat gold.
These are the key points, excerpted from an editorial in the Globe (The Boston Globe, 2007):
However, once the detailed ruling is released, it could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed or overturned more than six in ten of the Ninth Circuit decisions it judged between 1994 and 2006.
Keep your fingers crossed!