U.S. Supreme Court sides with mining company

Chris Rizo Jun. 22, 2009, 3:10pm

U.S. Supreme Court building

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. won a major court battle Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a permit that will allow the company's Alaska gold mine to put rock waste into a nearby lake on federal land.

In their 6-3 ruling, the nation's highest court overturned a U.S. appeals court ruling that had scrapped Coeur d'Alene Mines's permit for the Kensington Gold Mine, which is northwest of Juneau.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2005 granted the company's request to put 4.5 million tons of rock waste into Lower Slate Lake over a ten-year period. The mine had been closed since 1928.

After the Army Corps gave the permits to Coeur Alaska Inc. to dump mine tailings into the lake, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Club, the Sierra Club and Lynn Canal Conservation Inc. filed a lawsuit.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the Army Corps of Engineers -- not the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- has the authority to permit the slurry discharge.

"We conclude that the Corps was the appropriate agency to issue the permit and that the permit is lawful," Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for high court's majority.

Earlier, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the permit would have violated sections of the federal Clean Water Act.

In a statement, Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. hailed the high court's decision, saying that the mine will once again be operational once the tailings facility is built.

"We are very pleased with today's decision by the Supreme Court. It confirms that the thoroughly studied and permitted plan is lawful and the best environmental choice," said company President and CEO Dennis Wheeler. "We now look forward to bringing Kensington into production, which we are now targeting for the second half of 2010."

The case is Coeur Alaska Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council 07-984/07-990.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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