The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality intends to challenge a court ruling that nullifies pollution standards of the South Fork Coeur d'Alene River. The agency has established standards called total maximum daily load limits to regulate the amount of lead, cadmium and zinc that can be discharged into the river by mines, sewage plants and other users. The standards are required under the federal Clean Water Act. Silver Valley mining interests Asarco, Coeur Silver Valley Inc. and Hecla sued the agency. The mining companies argued that the standards were unnecessarily stringent and that complying with federal wastewater discharge permits based on them would cost millions of dollars.

A First District judge threw out the new rules casting doubt on the state's role in certifying water quality permits for mining operations in the Silver Valley. He said the state violated its own procedures by not providing the public adequate opportunity to participate in the development of the standards.

The DEQ plans to contest the ruling and will seek reversal by the Idaho Supreme Court to assure the state's continuing role in protecting the quality of the state's water.

The EPA has been studying the mine waste issue in the Coeur d'Alene Basin for years and is expected to release a cleanup plan in early 2002.