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


A controversial gold and copper project in Alaska may not exist after the Biden administration banned mining in the area to protect one of the world’s largest salmon spawning grounds .

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that it has used a provision of the Clean Water Act to block the project, Pebble Mine, and similar operations from the Bristol Bay watershed in southwest Alaska. The decision, signed Monday, finalizes the administration’s proposal issued in May. Since then, the department has determined that mining would cause unacceptable damage to the area’s fisheries, it said.

It’s the latest in a series of moves from the federal government and Alaska Native groups that could derail a $300 billion to $500 billion steel project. The EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers – under the previous Trump and the Biden administrations – have both rejected the development, creating many obstacles to its restoration that experts say will be difficult to overcome.

Earlier, Obama officials also moved to block the mine, telling the company it would not apply for a permit.

“It’s hard for me to think about the court [overturning] That’s kind of a double whammy,” said Bob Perciasepe, a former EPA administrator during the Obama administration who also led the air and water division during the Clinton administration. The company will have to continue to be able to provide it to keep the thing running seems difficult.”

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The directors of the Pebble partnership – the sole asset of Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd. based in Vancouver – said they would continue.

“Unfortunately, the Biden EPA continues to ignore fair and reasonable process for political gain,” said John Shively, executive director of the partnership. “This initial action against Pebble is not supported legally, technically or environmentally. Therefore, the next step may be to take legal action to fight this injustice.”

Others said that the project is history.

The EPA is proposing protections for the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery

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

In general, The greater Bristol Bay area supports the annual catch of 37.5 million sockeye salmon, supporting a $2 billion commercial fishing industry as well as a way of life for Indigenous people. Alaska. EPA Administrator Michael Regan called it “an irreversible and natural phenomenon.”

The new EPA protection prevents Pebble developers or other miners from dumping mine waste into three small water bodies that are part of the Bristol Bay network. That is necessary to protect the area’s fisheries and culture, the agency said.

Environmentalists and Native groups, which first almost moved more than ten years ago, enjoyed it this week. Alaska Native groups have strongly opposed the construction and want developers to abandon the project to protect the local fishing industry and land they consider sacred.

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“Today’s announcement is a historic development,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, an organization of tribal governments.

Pebble Limited is entering its third year of appealing the Army’s decision from November 2020 to deny mining site permits. It has received support from Alaskan leaders, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) has previously threatened to sue the EPA if it implements its own measure to ban mining in the area.

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“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’s wetlands and fish-bearing streams. My administration will stand up for the rights of Alaskans, Alaskan property owners and Alaska’s future.

The Biden administration was also attacked last week by Alaskan leaders for its decision to ban logging in Alaska’s Tongass forest. The EPA’s Regan said the agency does not want to hinder economic development in the state and that its Bristol Bay decision is limited to a small, isolated area.

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

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“As a source of food and employment, and a means of maintaining sacred indigenous traditions and customs, Bristol Bay supports the livelihoods of many people,” Regan said in a call with reporters. He said this final action shows the administration’s commitment to “protecting our nation’s valuable natural resources and protecting the livelihoods of people who depend heavily on the health and well-being of these beautiful waters.”

Environmentalists say they plan to continue asking Congress for more protections for Bristol Bay and its fish. Without them legally, and if the developer and the government keep seeking approvals, a future administration could still reverse decisions from the EPA and the Army Corps.

“It is time for us to act for sustainable protection for the entire Bristol Bay region that is commensurate with the magnitude of the threat to this unique region,” Chris Wood, president of the conservation group Trout Unlimited, said in a statement.


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