J500 Media and the Environment


Where’s Nemo? by Victor Vijayakirthi

Not for Assignment.

Last week the US Supreme Court ruled on the Couer vs Southeast Alaska Conservation Council case. What an environmental disaster! The net effect of this ruling is that any company in the country can dump toxic materials in a lake or river as long as the toxic dump can be classified as “fill” or slurry.

Coer Alaska, a gold mining operation, will, over the lifetime of the mine, dump over 4.5 million tons of toxic waste containing concentrations of aluminum, copper, lead, and mercury into the Lower Slate Lake. This will raise the lake bed 50 feet—to what is now the lake’s surface—and will increase the lake’s area from 23 to about 60 acres. The discharge would kill all of the lake’s fish and nearly all of its other aquatic life.

The discharge from the lake would flow about 2 miles through Slate Creek into Berner’s Bay eventually.

This ruling flies in the face of the Clean Water Act which expressly states that its goal is to protect the integrity of the nation’s water so that they can support “the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation in and on the water.”

The ruling also states that the EPA’s section 402 permit (permit for the discharge of a pollutant) “authorizes Coeur Alaska to discharge water from Lower Slate Lake into the down-stream creek, subject to strict water-quality limits that Coeur Alaska must regularly monitor“. Seriously?

The argument made by the company was that this was the “least environmentally damaging practicable” way to dispose of the tailings. In other words, that’s the price of doing business. I’m not so sure. If the company wants to, it can build sludge recycling systems to properly recycle these hazardous wastes and be true to its corporate social responsibility statements. Or it can just greenwash while focusing on just the bottom line.

The question we must ask ourselves is, where does this stop, and what can we do about it? While I believe that it’s important for each of us to do what we can, in our own backyards, to be environmentally (and socially) responsible, I also believe that we need to ask our elected officials and business leaders to take us seriously and stop abusing the environment. We must ask them to stop putting in every imaginable loophole into environmental laws and regulations. We must ask them to walk the talk.

More importantly, we must do the same. And we must act before every lake and river becomes a toxic dumping ground.

I believe in environmental conservation and preservation. I believe in advocacy. And I believe that if we try, we can still find Nemo.

Victor V