Politicians decry EPA's move toward a 'premature veto' on Pebble mine

Two US politicians have publicly denounced the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision to, for the time being, block the issuance of a key mining permit for the controversial Pebble Mine – a massive porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum deposit.

US Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, repeated the accusation that the EPA's actions constitute a "premature veto," given that the company, Northern Dynasty, has yet to submit an official proposal or permit applications.

"We already have undeniably grave problems with federal agencies blocking resource production on federal lands in Alaska," Murkowski wrote. "Now to see a federal agency overstep its authority and move prematurely to block even the consideration of a permit for potential activity on state lands is something I simply cannot accept."

But the Senator also pointed out that for the past three years she's been calling on the project's owners to submit their plan "so that Alaskans have greater certainty about its expected benefits and impacts."

"Both parties must respect and abide by the permitting process," she wrote.

Critics have often criticized the EPA for conducting assessments of the Pebble project in the absence of any formal mine plans. The Agency claims that the importance of Bristol Bay – the area that would be affected by the mine – is so great that it warrants these studies.

"Over three years, EPA compiled the best, most current science on the Bristol Bay watershed to understand how large-scale mining could impact salmon and water in this unique area of unparalleled natural resources," the EPA said last month. 

Last summer Murkowski sent a letter to the Pebble mine owners – which at the time included Anglo American – chastising them for drawing out the permitting process for nearly 10 years.

US Senator David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana, also published his reaction on Friday.

"Talk about a disincentive to invest in America, we are seeing EPA resort to a ridiculous level of allowing political prejudices determine how the Agency handles permitting," said Vitter. "When it comes to the Pebble Mine, EPA has shown that they are willing to disregard due process and lawfully established permitting procedures to ensure the failure of any project like this. EPA's desperate attempt to kill a potential mine should signal a major red flag to businesses."

Northern Dynasty CEO Tom Collier said in a statement that the company "remain[s] confident" in the project and will "continue to state [its] case with the EPA."

He said the EPA's actions on Friday reflect a "major overreach" onto an Alaskan natural resource.