Despite pleas from Idaho's congressional delegation and governor, the federal government has filed suit against eight mining companies for polluting the Coeur d'Alene River basin in Idaho's panhandle.
The suit seeks monetary
damages for the alleged discharge of more than 70 million tons of
mining waste into the basin over the last 100
Each year, lead poisoning kills dozens of
swans in wetlands scattered around the 1,500-square-mile basin. The
findings from an ongoing federal-tribal study show that dozens of
other wildlife species in the basin have also been contaminated,
and that sediments at the bottom of Lake Coeur d'Alene are laced
with lead, zinc, cadmium and other metals.
critical that those who damage our environment with years of mining
activity - not the American taxpayers - pay the cleanup costs,"
said Assistant Attorney General Lois J. Schiffer. The suit filed
March 22 targeted ASARCO Inc., Hecla Mining Co. Inc., Sunshine
Mining Co. Inc., Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. and four affiliated
Republican Idaho Gov. Phil Batt told
Attorney General Janet Reno that legal action would only waste time
and money, a position shared by the mining companies.
But Scott Brown of the Idaho Conservation League
says time is running out; he has reviewed stacks of reports
documenting wildlife damage at the offices of the Coeur d'Alene
tribe, which has also sued the mining companies over the
Meanwhile, Idaho Republican Sens.
Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne have introduced legislation that,
if passed, could thwart the lawsuit. The bill would give the
governor power to establish the terms of a settlement with the
mining companies. In return, the companies would be granted full
release from liability for all activities undertaken prior to
enactment of the legislation.
* Paul Larmer,