Tribes Demand Responsible Mining and Clean Water

from Wildlife Promise

This week, leaders and environmental staff members from eight tribes and tribal organizations are flying to Washington, D.C. to ask the Obama Administration to address a problem that impacts us all.  Mining companies are discharging huge quantities of untreated, toxic waste into the waters that sustain our fish, wildlife, and communities.

Lower Slate Lake in Alaska. Above image courtesy of Irene Alexacos. Bottom images by Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation.

Lower Slate Lake in Alaska. Above image courtesy of Irene Alexacos. Bottom image via Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation.

These tribal leaders, along with NWF staff, including Garrit Voggesser, the director of NWF’s Tribal Partnerships Program, will meet with officials from EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Council on Environmental Quality to ask them to close the two loopholes in the Clean Water Act’s regulations that authorize this destructive practice.

Dirty Discharge

Contaminated groundwater. Photo courtesy Earthworks.

Contaminated groundwater. Photo courtesy Earthworks.

Allowing mining companies to discharge untreated waste into the nation’s rivers, lakes, and wetlands is a fundamentally bad environmental policy.  It is also an environmental justice issue.  Water pollution caused by improperly stored mining waste has had a particularly devastating effect on tribal communities which both revere and depend on pure water.  NWF released a report last year, Honoring the River: How Hardrock Mining Impacts Tribal Communities, which describes the legacy of water pollution left by the mining industry.

The sad truth is that we would never tolerate mining companies using our waters as waste dumps if it were not for the fact that mines tend to be located in out-of-the-way spots, where they impact rural communities—such as many tribal communities—with limited financial resources and political clout.

What’s especially frustrating is that the Obama Administration could close the mining loopholes with relatively straight-forward changes to the Clean Water Act’s regulations but hasn’t chosen to do so.  Making the mining industry operate more responsibly would not require an act of Congress or some grand bargain, merely sufficient political will.

Perhaps a face-to-face with some of the original stewards of the land will encourage the Administration to take action.

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