Soon after the Red Dog Mine – the world’s largest zinc mine, located 50 miles up the Wulik River – became operational in 1989, dead fish started showing up in the river, the primary freshwater source for Kivalina. After reviewing the mine’s discharge reports, community leaders determined that the company appeared to have violated its permit. Enoch Adams Jr. and five other members of the Kivalina Relocation Planning Committee sued the mine’s owner, Teck Cominco Alaska Inc., for violating the Clean Water Act. In 2006, a U.S. District Court ruled in Kivalina’s favor.
In 2008, the village of Kivalina filed a lawsuit against 24 oil, electricity and coal companies, including Exxon Mobile Corp., Conoco Phillips and BP. The claim alleges that, as significant contributors to greenhouse-gas emissions, the corporations have exacerbated global warming, thereby accelerating erosion in Kivalina and leaving the island vulnerable to storm surge and flooding. The claim requests damages of up to $400 million. The federal government’s General Accounting Office estimates the cost of relocating the village at between $100 million and $400 million.
A secondary claim was filed alleging that the defendants had been involved in a conspiracy to discredit climate science, much like the product defense strategies tobacco companies engaged in when they maintained that smoking cigarettes didn’t cause cancer. This secondary claim was thrown out.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, California, heard Native Village of Kivalina, et al. v. Exxon Mobile Corp., et al. 09-17490 on Nov. 28, 2011.