Biden to block Pebble project in Alaska

Alaska, Bristol Bay sockeye salmon by the droves. Credit: Todd Radenbaugh | Creative Commons

The Biden administration is set to ban the dumping of mining waste near Bristol Bay, Alaska, by issuing a decree that thwarts longstanding plans to extract gold, copper and molybdenum because of potential harm to the region’s thriving sockeye salmon industry.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s final determination expected soon would effectively block the mine planned by Pebble Limited Partnership as well as future mining of the same deposit in headwaters of Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye harvest. The planned action was described by people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the decision hasn’t been announced.

Pebble, a subsidiary of publicly traded Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., has been seeking to mine in the area for more than two decades. The pending ban dovetails with a pledge President Joe Biden made while campaigning, when he said Bristol Bay “is no place for a mine.”

The proposed Pebble Mine has been a source of contention for years. Under former President Barack Obama, the EPA recommended restrictions that would rule out the project. But the agency later withdrew the controls after a legal challenge. A federal judge last year sent the issue back to the EPA for reconsideration.

Representatives of the EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bristol Bay supplies roughly half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, generating an estimated $2.2 billion in economic activity each year.

The ban, being ordered under the Clean Water Act, represents a victory for conservationists who have lobbied the Biden administration to definitively kill the mine by wielding the EPA’s broad authority under the statute to veto projects involving the discharge of dredged material. Under the final determination, the EPA will prohibit certain waters in the Bristol Bay region from being used as disposal sites for waste associated with Pebble Limited Partnership’s plan as well as any future proposals to tap the same deposit.

(By Jennifer A. Dlouhy)


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