U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moves to halt Pebble mine
The on-again, off-again efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to block the development of the Pebble Mine in Alaska are back on. The EPA announced on Sept. 9 that will resume its efforts to stop the mine through the use of a a Clean Water Act provision, called Section 404(c).
The Anchorage Daily News reported that the EPA had previously taken steps to block the proposed copper and gold mine in Southwest Alaska during the Obama administration but those efforts were halted in 2009 during the Trump administration.
“The Bristol Bay Watershed is an Alaskan treasure that underscores the critical value of clean water in America,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a written statement announcing the latest efforts to stop the mine’s development.
“What’s at stake is preventing pollution that would disproportionately impact Alaska Natives, and protecting a sustainable future for the most productive salmon fishery in North America,” Regan said.
The Pebble mineral deposit sits near headwaters that support Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery.
EPA plans to ask the courts, in a case brought by anti-Pebble groups, to allow the agency to reinitiate the process to protect Bristol Bay. If the courts approve, the agency will move ahead, but there will be opportunities for public input before any decision to “veto” the mine is final, EPA said.
Pebble Limited Partnership and parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian company, have pursued the project for two decades.
Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for the Pebble partnership, said in an email that an earlier federal review of the project noted “the tremendous economic opportunity the project represents for the communities around Iliamna Lake,” near where the mine would be located, “where year-round jobs are scarce, and costs of living are quite high.”
“As the Biden administration seeks lower carbon emissions for energy production, they should recognize that such change will require significantly more mineral production — notably copper,” Heatwole said. “The Pebble Project remains an important domestic source for the minerals necessary for the administration to reach its green energy goals.”
In November, following opposition from prominent Republicans, including Donald Trump Jr. and Alaska’s U.S. senators, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Trump administration denied the construction permit the project needs for development.
Pebble Partnership in May appealed the decision, but the Corps has indicated it may not make a decision until next year.
The EPA’s proposed action in 2014 would have limited the amount of wastewater and mine discharge that could have been released into Bristol Bay. It would have blocked a large-scale hard rock mine like Pebble, but smaller projects could have been allowed.
After the Trump administration moved to withdraw that EPA proposal, several organizations sued to stop it, and the case reached the 9th Circuit.