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Title: Sierra Club Resolution Opposing S.585
Author: Sierra Club
Date: February 1, 2001 | ID#: 010201
Category: Coeur d'Alene Superfund
Keywords: S. 585, Idaho, mine waste, Coeur Alene River, Lake Coeur d'Alene, Spokane River, Washington, Coeur d'Alene National Forest, Forest Service, floods, Superfund

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Resolution of the Sierra Club

 in opposing S. 585, and in support of
a comprehensive clean-up of the Coeur d'Alene-Spokane River ecosystem


  • Whereas mining companies have dumped over 70 million tons of wastes containing lead, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, and other heavy metals into the Coeur d'Alene River starting in 1884;
  • Whereas running water has carried the pollution downstream, covering wetlands with 4 to 40 feet of toxic sediments, covering the bottom of Lake Coeur d'Alene (Idaho's second largest lake) with 70 million tons of toxic sediments, and contaminating the beaches and sediments of the Spokane River;
  • Whereas the Coeur d'Alene National Forest is the most damaged of all 156 National Forests, with average logging road densities exceeding 11 road miles per square mile of forest;
  • Whereas floods from the cutover forests sweep across toxic flood plains, picking up the mine waste, and carrying millions of pounds of lead into Lake Coeur d'Alene;
  • Whereas the mining pollution does not stop at the Idaho state line, and continues into Washington state where it has caused the Spokane River to contain the highest levels of heavy metals in that state;
  • Whereas heavy metals in the amounts polluting this river ecosystem in both Idaho and Washington are toxic, have poisoned children, killed thousands of swans and other water fowl, and devastated aquatic life, and these problems continue;
  • Whereas the shorelines of the Coeur d'Alene River and upper Spokane River are now posted to warn people of the dangers and risks of the heavy metals, underscoring the public health concerns about the mining pollution;
  • Whereas the mining companies continued dumping despite opposition by farmers and other citizens that started a century ago;
  • Whereas the mining companies continued dumping despite scientific studies in the early 1930s that documented the Coeur d'Alene river was nearly devoid of life, documented that Lake Coeur d'Alene was saturated with lead, and recommended an end to the dumping of mine wastes into the river;
  • Whereas the state of Idaho knew of this opposition and these scientific studies and took no action to stop the pollution of these waters for a century;
  • Whereas Idaho, acting as a Trustee under Superfund law, settled with mining companies for environmental damages in 1986 for $4.5 million (on a Superfund clean-up now estimated at $500 million to $3 billion) after funding for the Attorney General's lawsuit to recover damages from the mining companies vanished in the Idaho legislature;
  • Whereas Idaho succeeded in appointing Robie Russell, an Idahoan, to head EPA's Region X during the late 1980s, who then used his position to actively protect mining companies by blocking EPA's Superfund clean-up and thereby endangering public health while allowing the companies to shift and hide assets to avoid cleanup costs;
  • Whereas Idaho has pressured the U.S. Forest Service for decades to overcut the Coeur d'Alene National Forest and continues to advocate logging of this heavily damaged forest, the source of the toxic floods carrying pollution into Washington;
  • Whereas Idaho has repeatedly attempted to weaken national Superfund law by transferring authority from the federal to state government, thereby protecting mining companies from cleanup liabilities and limiting Idaho's exposure for its share of future cleanup costs under current Superfund law;
  • Whereas Idaho succeeded in blocking a nationally popular "brownsfield" law in 2000 in order to advance the Idaho position on the Coeur d'Alene pollution;
  • Whereas Idaho requested an investigation by the EPA Ombudsman that has resulted in a quid pro quo in which the ombudsman office discredits the EPA cleanup effort in exchange for Idaho support for Congressional reauthorization of the ombudsman's office and expansion of authority over EPA;
  • Whereas Idaho has conducted a series of public hearings that have targeted EPA personnel attempting to develop clean-up proposals consistent with national Superfund law;
  • Whereas Idaho has enacted a state law that would effectively transfer authority for the clean-up from EPA to Idaho, and now seeks the necessary reciprocal federal law;
  • Whereas S. 585 is part of a reciprocal process necessary to transfer cleanup authority from EPA to Idaho;
  • Whereas S. 585 is prejudiced against Washington State, the downstream recipient of Idaho's pollution, by limiting Washington's authority in clean-up decisions affecting its waters and citizens; and
  • Whereas S. 585 would continue Idaho's attempt to weaken Superfund law, and transfer clean-up liability from the polluter to the general taxpayer.


Therefore, be it resolved that the Sierra Club

  • opposes S. 585,
  • supports a comprehensive Superfund clean-up of the Coeur d'Alene-Spokane River system that retains EPA authority for the cleanup consistent with Superfund law, and
  • recognizes Washington State as co-equal with Idaho in decisions pertaining to the toxic mine waste polluting the river system flowing through both states.