Feds use uncommon veto to dam Alaska copper, gold mine plan

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Safety Company took an unusually robust step Tuesday in blocking a proposed mine heralded by backers as probably the most important undeveloped copper and gold useful resource on the earth, with the company citing as unacceptable impacts the challenge might have on a wealthy Alaska aquatic ecosystem that helps the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

The transfer, cheered by Alaska Native tribes and environmentalists and condemned by some state officers and mining pursuits, offers a heavy blow to the proposed Pebble Mine. The meant website is in a distant space of southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay area, about 200 miles (322 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage.

It’s accessible solely by helicopter and snowmobile in winter, developer Pebble Restricted Partnership mentioned in a allow utility with the U.S. Military Corps of Engineers. As proposed, it known as for a mining price of as much as 73 million tons a yr.

An attraction by the Pebble partnership of a separate rejection of a key federal allow is unresolved.

In a press release, Pebble Restricted Partnership CEO John Shively known as the EPA’s motion “illegal” and political and mentioned litigation was possible. Shively has forged the challenge as key to the Biden administration’s push to achieve inexperienced vitality targets and make the U.S. much less depending on international nations for such minerals.

The Pebble Restricted Partnership is owned Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.

The Pebble deposit is close to the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, which helps a bounty of salmon “unmatched anyplace in North America,” in keeping with the EPA.

Tuesday’s announcement marks solely the 14th time within the roughly 50-year historical past of the federal Clear Water Act that the EPA has flexed its powers to bar or limit actions over their potential influence on waters, together with fisheries. EPA Administrator Michael Regan mentioned his company’s use of its so-called veto authority on this case “underscores the true irreplaceable and invaluable pure surprise that’s Bristol Bay.”

The veto is a victory for the atmosphere, financial system and tribes of Alaska’s Bristol Bay area, which have fought the proposal for greater than a decade, mentioned Joel Reynolds, western director and senior legal professional with the Pure Assets Protection Council.

The mine would have jeopardized the area’s salmon fishery, which brings 15,000 jobs to the world and provides about half the world’s sockeye salmon, Reynolds mentioned. The 2022 harvest was greater than 60 million fish, state officers reported final yr.

“It’s a victory for science over politics. For biodiversity over extinction. For democracy over company energy,” Reynolds mentioned.

The EPA, citing an evaluation by the U.S. Military Corps of Engineers, mentioned discharges of dredged or fill materials to construct and function the proposed mine website would lead to a lack of about 100 miles (160 kilometers) of stream habitat, in addition to wetlands.

The Pebble partnership has maintained the challenge can coexist with salmon. The partnership’s web site says the deposit is on the higher reaches of three “very small tributaries” and expresses confidence any impacts on the fishery “within the unlikely occasion of an incident” could be “minimal.”

Republican Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy mentioned the EPA’s veto was a harmful precedent that would have an effect on future improvement within the state, whereas state Legal professional Common Treg Taylor mentioned the company’s motion was “legally indefensible.”

“Alarmingly, it lays the inspiration to cease any improvement challenge, mining or non-mining, in any space of Alaska with wetlands and fish-bearing streams,” Dunleavy mentioned.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, mentioned she opposed the mine however mentioned the EPA’s veto shouldn’t be allowed to jeopardize future mining operations within the state.

“To be clear: I oppose Pebble. To be equally clear: I assist accountable mining in Alaska, which is a nationwide crucial. This dedication should not function precedent to focus on some other challenge in our state and have to be the one time EPA ever makes use of its veto authority underneath the Clear Water Act in Alaska,” Murkowski mentioned in a press release.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, known as the EPA’s actions “the ultimate nail within the coffin for the Pebble Mine” and the end result of a tough fought battle.

“Now, we can have a thriving Bristol Bay salmon run for generations to return,” she mentioned.

Tribes within the Bristol Bay area in 2010 petitioned the EPA to guard the world underneath the federal Clear Water Act. Alannah Hurley, government director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, mentioned that to name the EPA announcement “welcome information is an understatement.”

Tim Bristol, government director with the group SalmonState, lauded the EPA’s resolution, saying it “could also be the preferred factor the federal authorities has ever executed for Alaska.”

The EPA’s resolution is the most recent in a years-long back-and-forth over the challenge that has spanned administrations.

Leila Kimbrell, government director for the Useful resource Improvement Council for Alaska Inc., known as the EPA’s resolution “a harmful abuse of energy and federal overreach.” The Nationwide Mining Affiliation, citing excessive demand for minerals and fragile world provide chains, mentioned home mining has “by no means been extra essential.” It mentioned EPA’s resolution is “in stark distinction to nationwide and world realities.”


Whittle reported from Portland, Maine.

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