FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2003
TDD (202) 514-1888
MINING COMPANIES FOUND LIABLE FOR CLEANUP OF
COEUR D’ALENE BASIN CONTAMINATION
WASHINGTON, D.C.- United States District Court Judge Edward Lodge ruled yesterday that defendants Asarco Incorporated and Hecla Mining Company are liable for the costs incurred by the federal government in cleaning up those companies’ mining wastes in the Coeur d’Alene River Basin in northern Idaho, and are liable for injuries to a wide variety of natural resources impacted by those mining wastes. In his opinion, Judge Lodge concluded that the United States and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe “have established Defendants’ liability for their claims for response costs and for damages to natural resources” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and the Clean Water Act.
Judge Lodge reached his ruling after listening to approximately 100 witnesses during a 78-day trial that ended in July 2001, and reviewing 8,695 exhibits and over 16,000 pages of trial testimony. Based on the evidence established at trial, Judge Lodge concluded that both Asarco and Hecla were liable as owners and operators of over three dozen mines, mills, and other facilities from which they released mining wastes containing lead, zinc, cadmium, and other hazardous substances. Defendants dumped millions of tons of mine tailings directly into the waters of the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River and its tributaries. Those tailings were then spread by the river waters along the beds and banks of the river system, into the mainstem of the Coeur d’Alene River, Lake Coeur d’Alene, and on into the Spokane River. Judge Lodge specifically held that releases of hazardous substances continue to this day in the water, ground water and soil of the Basin due to cyclical high water events and the river flow.
The Court also rejected assertions by the mining companies that the United States shared in liability for the mining contamination in the Basin due to its involvement in mining operations during World War II. However, Judge Lodge held that the United States may bear some responsibility for cleanup costs and damages if the defendants can show that releases from tailings placed under Interstate 90, certain dredging activities, and releases resulting from certain exploration contracts were significant enough to be a contributing factor to the harm.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kelly A. Johnson expressed her satisfaction with the judge’s ruling: “I am pleased the Court found these two companies liable for over half of the costs incurred by the United States in cleaning up the mining wastes the companies disposed of in the rivers and creeks of the Coeur d’Alene Basin. This ruling will go a long way toward ensuring that the parties responsible for contaminating the Basin pay for its cleanup.”
The Court has set a second trial for May 2004, at which time the Court will quantify the damages and response costs for which defendants are liable.