Pebble Mine may be blocked by 'sparingly used' regulation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to invoke a little used provision that may block Pebble Mine from being built.

On Friday the EPA said that it is seeking comment on issuing regulation 404(c) whereby the ". . . EPA is authorized to prohibit or restrict fill activities if a project would have unacceptable adverse effects on fishery areas." The EPA said the provision is used "sparingly" with major projects that have "significant impacts."

The EPA said it is issuing the proposal ". . . to protect one of the world’s most valuable salmon fisheries, in Bristol Bay, Alaska, from the risks posed by large-scale mining at the Pebble deposit."

"Science has shown that development of this mine, which is backed by Northern Dynasty Minerals and the Pebble Limited Partnership, would be one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world and would threaten one of the world’s most productive salmon fisheries," said the EPA in a news release.

The proposed Pebble Mine, 320 km southwest of Anchorage, is within the Bristol Bay watershed.

The company backing the mine said the EPA is jumping the gun.

“While today’s announcement from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 is only a proposal at this time, we are pleased to note the agency has rejected requests to preemptively veto the Pebble Project in favor of imposing specific conditions on future development," said  Pebble Partnership's CEO Tom Collier. Pebble Partnership is an advocacy group run by Northern Dynasty.

“That said, we believe that EPA does not have the statutory authority to impose conditions on development at Pebble, or any development project anywhere in Alaska or the US, prior to the submission of a detailed development plan and its thorough review by federal and state agencies, including review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)."

Northern Dynasty Minerals (TSE:NDM) dropped 7.69% to 78 cents on Friday.

The EPA is seeking public comment on its proposal from July 21 to September 19, 2014. Public meetings will be held in Alaska from August 12-15.

The EPA explains the background on provision:

The Clean Water Act generally requires a Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before any person places dredged or fill material into streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorizes thousands of permits every year, and EPA works with the Corps and developers to resolve environmental concerns so projects can move forward. Under Section 404(c), EPA is authorized to prohibit or restrict fill activities if a project would have unacceptable adverse effects on fishery areas.

EPA has used its 404(c) authority sparingly, beginning the process in 30 instances and completing it only 13 times in the 42-year history of the Clean Water Act. EPA use of its authority has typically involved major projects with significant impacts on some of America’s most ecologically valuable waters.

Image of Bristol Bay by Emma Fosberg