A controversial gold and copper mine project in Alaska may now be off the table after the Biden administration formally restricted mining in the area to protect one of the largest salmon spawning grounds in the world.
It is the latest in a series of actions by the federal government and Alaska Native groups that could ruin a project to take advantage of the ounce of ore valued at $300 billion to $500 billion. The EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers, first under the Trump and then Biden administrations, have now pushed back on the development, creating multiple barriers to reviving it that experts say will be difficult to overcome.
Previously, Obama officials also took steps to block the minetelling the company that it could not apply for the permits.
“It’s hard for me to imagine a court [overturning] that kind of double shot,” said Bob Perciasepe, a former EPA acting administrator during the Obama administration who also headed the air and water divisions during the Clinton administration. “The amount of money the company would have to follow in order to get ahead to keep the thing going seems tough.”
Executives at the Pebble Partnership, the sole asset of Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd. He said they would continue.
“Unfortunately, Biden’s EPA continues to ignore due process in favor of the policy,” John Shively, the association’s executive director, said in a statement. “This preemptive action against Pebble is not legally, technically or environmentally supported. As such, the next step will likely be to take legal action to fight this injustice.”
Others declared the project history.
“This is the last nail in the coffin for Pebble Mine,” said Sen. Mary Cantwell (D-Wash). She added that the mine “would have devastated Bristol Bay salmon” and the thousands of families who depend on that fishery.
On average, the vast expanse of Bristol Bay supports an annual run 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 developers of Pebble or other similar miners from dumping mine waste in three smaller watersheds that are part of the Bristol Bay network. That is necessary to protect both the region’s fisheries and its culture, the agency said.
Environmentalists and native groups, who first sought out the movement more than a decade ago, he cheered it this week. Alaska Native groups have strongly opposed the construction and want the developers to abandon the project to protect the local fishing industry and land they consider sacred.
“Today’s announcement is historic progress,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a consortium of tribal governments.
Pebble Limited is entering its third year appealing November 2020 Army Corps decision to refuse permits for the mine site. He has received the support of Alaskan leaders, including the governor. Mike Dunleavy (R) previously threatened to sue the EPA if it made its own move to more broadly reject mining in the area.
“EPA’s veto sets a dangerous precedent,” Dunleavy said in a statement anticipating the decision. “It lays the groundwork for stopping any development project, mining or non-mining, in any area of Alaska with wetlands and fish-bearing streams. My administration will stand up for the rights of Alaskans, Alaskan homeowners, and the future of Alaska.”
The Biden administration was also criticized a week ago by Alaskan leaders for your decision to block the record In alaska Tongass National Forest. The EPA’s Regan said the agency does not want to hamper economic development in the state and that its Bristol Bay decision is limited to a small and exceptionally special area.
The agency invoked rarely used authority under the Clean Water Act, often referred to as the power of veto, to limit mining within Pebble’s proposed 308-square-mile footprint. While the agency can use this power to block specific projects or permits, it can also more broadly block development in a sensitive area, which is what the agency is doing in Bristol Bay. It is only the third time in 30 years that the agency has invoked this power, Regan said.
“As a source of food and jobs, and a means of preserving sacred indigenous customs and practices, Bristol Bay supports the livelihoods of so many,” Regan said on a call with reporters. She said this final action demonstrates the administration’s commitment to “safeguarding our nation’s indispensable natural resources and protecting the livelihoods of those who depend so heavily on the health and well-being of these magnificent waters.”
The environmentalists said they plan to continue asking Congress for more protections for Bristol Bay and its fisheries. Without them in law, and if the developer and state continue to push for the permits, a future administration could still reverse the EPA and Army Corps decisions.
“It is time we worked for lasting protections for the entire Bristol Bay basin that match the scope of the threat to this special place,” Chris Wood, president of conservation group Trout Unlimited, said in a statement.