EPA vetoes Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay to protect salmon


A contentious gold and copper mine project in Alaska could now be shelved after the Biden administration officially restricted mining in the region to protect one of the largest salmon spawning grounds in the world.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Tuesday that it had used a provision of the Clean Water Act to block the project, Pebble Mine, and similar operations in the Bristol Bay watershed in southwest Australia. Alaska. The decision, signed on Monday, completes a proposal that the administration issued in May. Since then, the agency has determined that the mine dumps would cause unacceptable damage to fisheries in the area, she said.

This is the latest in a series of measures taken by the federal government and Alaska Native groups it could doom a mineral extraction project once valued at between $300 billion and $500 billion. Both the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers – under the Trump and then Biden administrations – have now rejected the development, creating multiple obstacles to its relaunch that experts say will be difficult to overcome.

Previously, Obama officials also took action to block the mineindicating to the company that it could not apply for a permit.

“I find it hard to imagine a court [overturning] that kind of a double whammy,” said Bob Perciasepe, a former acting EPA administrator during the Obama administration who also led the air and water divisions during the Clinton administration. “The amount of money the company should continue to be able to put forward to keep the thing going seems difficult.”

Executives at the Pebble Partnership — the sole asset of Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd. — said they would continue.

“Unfortunately, the EPA Biden continues to ignore fair and due process in favor of the policy,” John Shively, the partnership’s chief executive, said in a statement. “This preventative action against Pebble is not legally, technically or environmentally supported. As such, the next step will likely be to take legal action to address this injustice.

Others said the project was history.

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“This is the final nail in the coffin for the Pebble Mine,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash). She added that the mine “would have devastated Bristol Bay salmon” and the thousands of families who depend on this fishery.

On average, the vast expanse of Bristol Bay supports an annual migration of 37.5 million sockeye salmon, supporting a $2 billion commercial fishing industry as well as a way of life for Alaska Natives. EPA Administrator Michael Regan called it an “irreplaceable, natural wonder.”

New EPA protections prohibit Pebble developers or other similar miners from dumping mine waste into three smaller watersheds that are part of the Bristol Bay system. This is necessary to protect both the region’s fisheries and its culture, the agency said.

Environmentalists and indigenous groups, who first asked for the move more than a decade ago, applauded it this week. Alaska Native groups have vigorously opposed construction and want developers to drop the project to protect the local fishing industry and lands they hold sacred.

“Today’s announcement is historic progress,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a consortium of tribal governments.

Pebble Limited enters third year of appeal the november 2020 corps decision to reject permits for the mine site. It has received backing from Alaska leaders, with Governor Mike Dunleavy (right) previously threatening to sue the EPA if it decides itself to reject mining in the region more broadly.

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“The EPA veto sets a dangerous precedent,” Dunleavy said in a statement anticipating the decision. “It lays the groundwork to stop any development, mining or non-mining, in any area of ​​Alaska with wetlands and fish-bearing streams. My administration will defend the rights of Alaskans , Alaskan Landowners and Alaska’s Future.

The Biden administration also came under fire a week ago from Alaskan leaders for its decision to block logging in alaska Tongass National Forest. EPA’s Regan said the agency does not want to impede the state’s economic development and that its Bristol Bay decision is limited to a single small area.

The agency invoked a rarely used authority under the Clean Water Act — often called its veto power — to limit mining in Pebble’s proposed 308-square-mile footprint. While the agency can use this power to block specific projects or permits, it can also block development more broadly in a sensitive area, which the agency does in Bristol Bay. This is only the third time in 30 years that the agency has invoked this power, Regan said.

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“As a source of food and jobs, and a way to preserve sacred indigenous customs and practices, Bristol Bay supports the livelihoods of so many people,” Regan said on a call with reporters. He said this final action demonstrates the administration’s commitment to “safeguarding our nation’s much-needed natural resources and protecting the livelihoods of those who so deeply depend on the health and well-being of these magnificent waters.” “.

Environmentalists said they plan to continue to ask Congress for additional protections for Bristol Bay and its fisheries. Without them in law, and if the developer and the state continue to push for permits, a future administration could still ultimately overrule EPA and Army Corps decisions.

“It is time for us to work for lasting protections for the entire Bristol Bay watershed that match the scale of the threat to this special place,” said Chris Wood, chairman of the group of Conservation Trout Unlimited, in a statement.

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