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Dumps and Tailings

George E. Reeves, Stephen D. Alfers, Proceedings of 23rd Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1977)

From an early date miners have had to deal with the problem of disposing of mine and mill waste and tailings. Disputes frequently arose between the miner and the owner of the land on which the miner had disposed of his waste or tailings. Usually these disputes were concerned with the resulting damage to the land, although occasionally the ownership of the tailings themselves was in question.

In recent years, the planning of a mining operation has had to take into consideration the problems involved in complying with federal and state water pollution control standards, mined land reclamation standards, air pollution standards, and, in rare instances, controls precipitated by the Toxic Substances Control Act.1

Government regulation of mine and mill waste and tailings disposal has figured in unpredicted if not unpredictable ways. One exampletaken not from a mining lawyer's nightmare but from real lifeis the case of Reserve Mining Company. Reserve had been discharging taconite tailings into Lake Superior under a permit issued by the Corps of Engineers pursuant to the Refuse Act of 1899.2 On February 17, 1972, the Environmental Protection [420] Agency brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota to stop Reserve's discharge of some 67,000 tons of taconite tailings per day into Lake Superior. The ensuing litigation was bitter, complex, and p