Alaska petitions U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Pebble Mine veto

July 27, 2023

The state of Alaska on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate a Biden administration veto blocking Northern Dynasty Minerals’ proposed Pebble copper and gold mining project.

The state argues the decision from the Biden administration breaches a contract (the Cook Inlet Land Exchange) involving Alaska and the United States and violates the federal statutory recognition and implementation of that land exchange. It also argues that the veto violates the Administrative Procedure Act because the veto is arbitrary and capricious. Finally, it argues that the veto—which withdraws 309 square miles in the Bristol Bay region from use for mining purposes—is an unconstitutional taking without just compensation.

Reuters reported that the lawsuit asked the high court to reverse the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act veto. The agency’s January decision determined the Pebble project would cause large-scale loss and damage to the Bristol Bay watershed, and prohibited the project from dumping mining waste into those waters.

Alaska said the restrictions violate the state’s sovereign right to regulate its lands and waters, as well as a 1976 land swap with the U.S. government that gave the state ownership over the area in question.

“The Bill of Complaint filed by Alaska is a welcome development in the long Pebble saga,” Ron Thiessen, president and chief executive officer of Northern Dynasty said in a statement. “Northern Dynasty strongly, and I mean very strongly, supports all of the arguments set forth by the State and we congratulate the state for bringing these claims directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Northern Dynasty intends to prepare and file with the Supreme Court appropriate briefs to support the state’s case.”

The Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska supports the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and is known for its large mineral resources. The watershed also provides habitat for 29 species of fish, more than 190 birds and dozens of mammals, according to the EPA.

The proposed mine would tap one of the world’s largest copper and gold deposits. The EPA claims it would permanently destroy over 2,000 acres of wetlands.

Alaska’s lawsuit was filed directly with the Supreme Court, instead of first going through lower courts, which Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor said in a statement is an “extraordinary ask” that is needed because the EPA’s decision was itself “extraordinary.”

“In the mid 1970’s, a three-way land exchange was negotiated between the U.S. Government, the CIRI Native Alaskan Corporation (CIRI) and the state of Alaska,” Thiessen said. “The U.S. Government received land to create Lake Clark National Park. CIRI received land with valuable natural resources allowing it to become a profitable entity for its Alaska Native shareholders. The State of Alaska received land in the Bristol Bay region — where the Pebble Project is located — for the specific purpose of developing the mineral potential of that land. The EPA veto is the U.S. Government reneging on that deal. Both the U.S. government and CIRI got the value they bargained for; if the EPA veto is not withdrawn, the U.S. government has taken back the value the State of Alaska bargained for.”

Photo: Courtesy of Northern Dynasty Minerals


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