The election of Donald Trump and the subsequent appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given rise to hopes that the Pebble Project in Alaska could get a new chance at being developed.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R, TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, sparked the new interest in the mine when he wrote a letter asking Pruitt to rescind the 2014 veto of the Pebble Mine project amid claims that the agency overstepped its statutory authority under President Barack Obama.
“The committee has determined that the preemptive action taken for the Pebble Mine Project was unprecedented under the Clean Water Act and was justified by a questionable scientific assessment that relied on predetermined conclusions developed by EPA officials,” Smith wrote.
Smith added that rescinding the 2014 veto “will allow a return to the long-established Clean Water Act permitting process and stop attempts by the EPA to improperly expand its authority.”
Northern Dynasty Minerals, the Canadian company looking to develop the project that could be one of the largest copper, gold and molybdenum deposits in the world, praised Smith’s letter in a press release and said the company only hoped for a fair assessment from the EPA.
“All we have ever asked is for the opportunity to propose a comprehensive development plan for the Pebble Project, and to have it fairly and objectively reviewed against the extremely rigorous environmental standards and permitting requirements enforced in Alaska and the United States,” Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ron Thiessen said in the press release. “Today, we are one step closer to earning that opportunity.”
According to environmental lawyers, however, Northern Dynasty has always been allowed to apply for a permit despite the veto from the EPA.
“Nothing in the Section 404(c) prevents the company from applying for a dredging permit,” Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Fox News. “There have been claims that the EPA has prevented the company from applying because of 404(c), but there is no rule that prevents them from applying. The owners of Pebble Mine have chosen not to apply.”
While Smith’s letter to Pruitt has once again brought Pebble Mine back into the spotlight, the chances of the mine actually becoming a reality appear far from certain.
The project may have the backing of pro-mining lawmakers in Washington who want to see the Obama-era environmental regulations rolled back, but the mine does not enjoy the same among environmentalists, Alaska’s indigenous communities and the state’s large-scale salmon fishing industry, Fox News reported.
The project has been hampered for decades over concerns that toxic residue from the mine could harm the world’s largest population of sockeye salmon and endanger the 14,000 jobs and $252 million-a-year generated by the local fishing industry.
Adding to the ubiquitous local opposition in Bristol Bay toward the mine are the financial problems that consistently have plagued the project.
Earlier in February, New York-based investment firm Kerrisdale Capital released a damning report on the state of Northern Dynasty – the Pebble deposit’s current owners.