A group seeking to develop a massive copper-gold mine near the headwaters of a world-premier salmon fishery in Alaska is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for taking steps that could result in development being limited or plainly forbidden.
The Pebble Limited Partnership alleges in its lawsuit that the EPA overused its authority when it initiated a rarely used process under the Clean Water Act that may block development of the Pebble mine, citing the potential of “irreversible harm” to Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery, and fish-eating wildlife.
The group fears the agency will kill the project before mine plans are finalized or it’s evaluated through the permitting process.
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.
At the request of native Alaskan tribes, the EPA has been looking into the Pebble mine for three years now, sparking a heated debate over veto” considering that the only company still behind the project, Northern Dynasty Minerals (TSE:NDM), has yet to submit an official proposal.
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.