11/01/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

And Now a Question for Governor Palin

St. Louis -- Tomorrow Senator Biden and Governor Palin will debate. Here's a question the media might usefully ask, premised on the idea that Americans need to decide on substance, not just on personality, whether they are comfortable having Governor Palin or Senator Biden as President -- which is really what we will be voting on when we consider their qualifications.

Because he has so much experience, I already have a pretty good sense of where Biden will be coming from, so my question is directed to the Governor.

Question: "Should mining operators be permitted to destroy streams by dumping the waste, spoil, and tailings from their operations into them, or should mining companies, whether producing coal or gold, have to protect their downstream and downslope neighbors by keeping their waste material out of our waterways?"

The record: As Governor, Palin has consistently sided with mining companies seeking to dump their waste into Alaska's pristine streams and waterways. In 1997 the Coeur d'Alene Mining Company applied for and received a permit to construct and operate its Kensington gold mine and allowed to dispose its waste on land. In 2002, the Bush EPA rewrote the definitions under the Clean Water Act to allow coal mining companies to dump mining waste into streams, by distinguishing between the legally prohibited "discharge" of waste into streams and the legally permitted "filling" of streams. So you can't pollute a river with small quantities of waste, but you can eradicate it with large enough volumes. The Coeur d'Alene Mining Company took advantage of this ruling to rewrite its plans to dump its waste into Lower Slate Lake.

The federal courts ruled that this was illegal.

The State of Alaska and the mining company asked the Supreme Court to review the ruling. The Bush administration asked the Court not to take the case, but said that if the Court did it would support the mining company. The Court did agree to take the case and will hear oral arguments in early 2009. It's hard to see why the Court would take the case other than to overturn the Ninth Circuit decision.

Governor Palin cheered the Court's decision to hear the case.

Here's Lower Slate Lake as it looks today:

Governor Palin, tell us: How will it look in a McCain-Palin administration?