EPA under fire again for Pebble Mine assessment

The US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) assessment of the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska was under fire again this week at a hearing with the republican-dominated Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

The house committee, which has jurisdiction over the EPA, held a hearing on Thursday to "examine potential overreach" by the Agency in its review of the Pebble Partnership's project which critics say constitutes an attempt at a "preemptive veto."

The review, which ran the EPA $2.4 million in external expenses alone, concluded that the project would have "significant impacts on fish populations in streams surrounding the mine site."

Critics of the assessment process say the report is based on "hypothetical mining scenarios" because the companies behind the proposed site have yet to submit any plans.

"A preemptive veto by the EPA would set a dangerous precedent, and could have a chilling effect on similar projects throughout the nation," Paul Brown (Rep.), chairman of the oversight subcommittee which held the hearing, said on Thursday.

Notwithstanding his "reservations about EPA's actions in regard to a potential Pebble mine," Brown – who is also a member of an organization opposed to Bristol Bay mining – added that he has "serious questions about how a mine can coexist with the fish in Bristol Bay."

Stake-holders in the proposed mine include Northern Dynasty Minerals (NYSE:NAK), Anglo American (LON:AAL) and Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO)

Meanwhile, John Shively, the Pebble Partnership's CEO, published an op-ed with Fox News about the EPA debacle. Environmentalist groups, writes Shively, are "attacking" the National Environmental Policy Act by trying to "rush a decision on a copper mine in Alaska."

The most organized opposition to the Pebble Mine comes from a New York City-based environmental group called the Natural Resources Defense Council which pushed for the assessment and is trying to "fast-track" a veto, says Shively.

The group has also organized a massive nationwide campaign with over one million petition signatures. Actor Robert Redford sits on the group's board.

The BBC's HardTalk with Stephen Sackur recently visited the proposed Pebble Mine site and interviewed locals who said the project would destroy the area's $1 billion fishing industry.

In an interview with Sackur, the EPA's Dennis McLarren, said the Agency has in the past, though "very sparingly," used "certain authorities" to conduct reviews before plans are submitted. The Bristol Bay area is "one of the last best places," said McLarren, which is why he and his colleagues are looking at it so closely. The Agency has not yet made a final decision on whether the project can proceed.

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