The U.S. Supreme Court this morning will hear oral arguments concerning whether to reverse a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling invalidating the tailings permit for Coeur d' Alene Mines' Kensington gold project  near Juneau, Alaska.

If the nation's highest court upholds a lower court decision supporting the Kensington 404 tailings permit, Kensington could produce its first gold late this year. Kensington is expected to produce 140,000 ounces of gold annually during its first decade.

Coeur has planned to fill Lower Slate Lake with tailings, which is permitted by the Army Corps of Engineers. However, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that Coeur also had to obtain an EPA permit because if the tailings are determined to be wastewater, the EPA, not the Corps, would actually be in charge of regulating mine tailings disposal.

The U.S. Department of Justice, however, concurs with Alaska state regulators and Coeur executives that the 9th Circuit opinion is erroneous. State attorneys general believe the importance of the case goes well beyond Kensington. Both the Mountain States Legal Foundation and the National Mining Association have filed briefs on behalf of the mine.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Sierra Club and Lynn Canal Conservation sued to revoke the federal permit. The groups have scheduled a press conference after this morning's oral arguments.