Alaska to join Pebble Partnership in lawsuit against EPA over mine project

Alaska to join Pebble Partnership in lawsuit against EPA over mine project

Bristol Bay region in Southwest Alaska | Image by Nick Hall, Bristol Bay Alliance.

The State of Alaska has decided to join a group seeking to develop a massive copper-gold mine by Bristol Bay in a lawsuit against the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for taking steps that could result in the project being limited or plainly forbidden.

Authorities are particularly critical of the EPA’s decision of initiating a rarely used process under the Clean Water Act that may block development of the Pebble mine, before any permit application has been filed.

“Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the EPA seeking to veto a hypothetical project before any permit application has been filed, is that it sets precedent for the EPA to take land anywhere in the United States and prematurely limit development of a valuable resource,” Attorney General Michael Geraghty said in a press release.

“The EPA’s action undermines Alaska’s ability to utilize its mineral resources to grow the economy and create jobs if, after detailed and lengthy environmental review, permitting is warranted,” he added.

The original lawsuit, filed by Pebble Limited Partnership, claims the agency s overused its statutory authority.

Alaska to join Pebble Partnership in lawsuit against EPA over mine project

EPA says it wants to ensure the Kvichak and Nushagak River watersheds are protected from “unacceptable impacts” from mining.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in February that the agency started the process because the Bristol Bay fishery “is an extraordinary resource and is worthy of out-of-the-ordinary agency actions to protect it.” She also stressed that no final decision had been made.

Anglo American (LON:AAL) left the project last September, handing its 50% stake in the project back to Northern Dynasty and taking a $300 million write down in the process. Rio Tinto (LON, ASX:RIO) followed Anglo’s steps last month, announcing it was donating its 19.1% stake in Northern Dynasty to two Alaskan charities.

Opponents have long said the environmental risks of the Pebble project outweigh the benefits, citing the potential for widespread damage if polluted water were to enter streams in the region. Northern Dynasty says the mine could be developed safely, and would boost Alaska’s economy with about 1,000 jobs through its operating life.