EPA raid on Alaska’s gold mines triggers federal probe

U.S. senators are demanding answers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after media reports said agency officials took part last month in an armed attack to gold mines near the remote town of Chicken, Alaska.

According to The Alaska Dispatch, federal authorities have also requested EPA to explain why it sent armed officers to conduct a water pollution-related inspection.

“Agents with body armour showing up at a gold mine to enforce the Clean Water Act is an invitation to disaster. A confrontation between unannounced armed agents and armed miners could end in a hail of gunfire,” writes blogger Chris Bennet.

The agency has not denied its law enforcement officers wore body armours and carried firearms, as it says the agents are always required to do to perform their duties. However, EPA told The Alaska Dispatch it was never a "raid."

“Environmental law enforcement, like other forms of law enforcement, always involves the potential for physical, even armed, confrontation,” said the EPA in a statement e-mailed to Fox News.

The probe comes on the heels of another EPA-lead controversy. For months the agency has been trying to pre-emptively veto the proposed open-pit copper and gold Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, also in Alaska, by denying it a permit before any plans for the mine have been put forward.

Essentially EPA and other environmental groups say Pebble would generate tons of potentially dangerous waste material, which would damage the area’s salmon population, one of the world's most valuable habitats for the fish.

The joint venture behind the project—formed by mining giants Northern Dynasty Minerals (TSX:NDM), Anglo American (LON:AAL) and Rio Tinto (LON, ASX:RIO)— has repeatedly attack EPA’s assessments calling them “flawed” and “biased.” 

The deposit, which could be worth as much as half a trillion dollars, hosts 55 billion pounds of copper, 76 million ounces of gold, 3.3 billion pounds of molybdenum, and quantities of silver, palladium and rhenium.

If approved, it would become the largest open pit copper and gold mine in the world.

Image: US soldiers training in Alaska by The U.S. Army via Flickr.