Even though the Environmental Protection Agency appears to be backing off its push to preemptively kill a proposed copper and gold mine in Alaska’s bush country, the agency is pitching an array of conditions that could stifle the project.
A recently proposed list of restrictions, whose public comment period runs until Sept. 19, could severely limit development of the proposed Pebble Mine project, an operation developers say would create 1,000 direct jobs and thousands more indirectly, and generate as much as $180 million in state revenue for Alaska.
Dennis McLerran, regional administrator for the EPA’s Region 10, said even though the agency has opted not to invoke a provision under the Clean Water Act that would effectively shut down the mine before a plan is submitted, the dangers of even a smaller mine in the Bristol Bay region’s “fragile ecosystem” would be devastating.
He told reporters the EPA is trying to protect the world’s largest salmon fishery, where half of the world’s sockeye salmon population is said to live, from what would be “one of the world’s largest open pit mine developments ever conceived of.”
Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier said in a statement the developer is pleased the EPA has pulled back its threatened preemptive veto of the mine proposal. Collier said the agency does not have the authority to impose conditions on Pebble, or any development project anywhere in the United States, before a plan is submitted and the chain of state and federal regulatory review is followed.
Pebble is suing the EPA for what it called the agency’s “attempt to (preemptively) impose conditions on future development at Pebble, in the absence of completing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as is required of every major development project in the United States,” Collier said in the statement.
Pebble filed its lawsuit in May. In its complaint, the company asserts “nothing in Section 404 of the (Clean Water) Act or elsewhere in the statute suggests that Congress intended for EPA to arrogate to itself an authority that essentially bans an activity—mining—before it is even proposed by an applicant.”
Beyond the lawsuit brought by Pebble, with assistance from the state of Alaska, the EPA is the subject of several investigations related to the agencies handling of its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and its threat of invoking the preemptive veto.