EPA Clears Path for Alaskan Mining Project

By Yessenia Funes May 12, 2017

The EPA announced today (May 12) that it will allow the Pebble Mine Project in Bristol Bay, Alaska to move forward with the approval process. Under former President Barack Obama, the agency denied the project access to permits in 2014.

The mine, proposed to sit on the state’s southwestern end, would produce copper, molybdenum and gold.

The concern had been how the mine would impact certain watersheds that are home to all five species of Pacific salmon—a resource on which Bristol Bay Alaska Native tribes and fishers rely. For over a decade, these stakeholders have been challenging the project to protect their streams, lakes and rivers. The EPA wrote:

EPA Region 10 is proposing this action because the Clean Water Act requires the agency to protect the nation’s waters, including the protection of fisheries. The Bristol Bay watershed is an area of exceptional ecological value with salmon fisheries unrivaled anywhere in North America. Development of a mine at the Pebble deposit would result in one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world and would threaten this valuable resource. Simply put, this is a uniquely large mine in a uniquely important place.

Developer North Dynasty Minerals Ltd. responded to this with two lawsuits against the EPA. It ended these lawsuits now that the agency, under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt, wants to give the project “a fair process for their permit application,” as Pruitt said in a statement per The Washington Post. This doesn’t mean that the project receives an automatic green light. Instead, it can now begin environmental reviews on the federal and state levels.

The company posted a statement to its website, where it applauded the settlement reached with the EPA:

Northern Dynasty and the Pebble Partnership expressed their gratitude to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and President Trump for their commitment to the rule of law, and the fair and equal treatment of those who would invest in job-creating industries in America. The Company also thanked members of US Congress and the Alaska State Legislature who helped in achieving the goal of due process for Pebble — in particular, members of the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology, House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform and Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works.

In February, Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Lamar Smith (R-Texas) wrote a letter to Pruitt asking him to rescind the agency’s previous decision. He called the Obama administration’s move “unprecedented under the Clean Water Act,” “justified by a questionable scientific assessment that relied on predetermined conclusions developed by EPA officials.”

Project opponents, however, urged the EPA administrator in a letter last month to maintain the agency’s previous decision. Their main argument is that it will protect the region’s fishing industry.