EPA Report Delivers Blow to Alaska’s Pebble Mine

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week released a long awaited technical report on the potential impacts to the world-class salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska of the proposed Pebble Mine project concluding that large-scale mining poses serious risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures.

The assessment, compiled over three years by EPA at the request of Western Alaska area tribes, dealt a serious blow to a Canadian company’s ambitions to dig one of the world’s largest open-pit mines in the middle of the world’s most productive salmon fishery, The Washington Post reported.

Vancouver, B.C.-based Northern Dynasty Mining has not filed a permit application with state officials to construct the massive project seeking to extract copper and gold estimated to be worth $500 billion.

Northern Dynasty and its Congressional supporters criticized the report as biased, premature and bad for business, the Post reported. Commercial and sport fishing groups, scientists, and area residents and tribes hailed the assessment as a first step to protecting fish, wildlife and the multi-billion dollar economy that they sustain.

The report prepared by EPA’s Region X office comes at the same time the agency’s Region IX office has been sharply critical of Vancouver, B.C.-based Augusta Resource Corporation’s proposed Rosemont copper mine in a rare “sky island” mountain range southeast of Tucson, AZ.

EPA Region IX has repeatedly warned in letters to both the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the  mining plan submitted by Augusta’s Rosemont Copper subsidiary should not be approved as proposed because of serious adverse impacts to area water supplies.

After completing a comprehensive and detailed analysis, EPA concluded that Rosemont’s proposals to mitigate the mine’s severe and permanent damage to area water supplies are “scientifically flawed” and “grossly inadequate,” and advised the Corps of Engineers in a letter last November, that the project “does not comply” with Clean Water Act guidelines.

Rosemont must obtain a Clean Water Act permit from the Corps before the mine can proceed, and EPA has veto authority over the permits because the agency established the guidelines under which the permits can be issued.

EPA’s Region X office notably included in its Pebble Mine assessment that “consistent with the recent record of similar mines operating in the United States, polluted water from the mine site could enter streams through uncollected leachate or runoff, in spite of modern mining practice (emphasis added).”

Augusta Resource has repeatedly claimed that Rosemont will use “21st Century” mining techniques that will protect the environment and meet all applicable state and federal laws.

Bristol Bay, meanwhile, supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, producing nearly 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon with runs averaging 37.5 million fish each year.

EPA estimated that up to 94 miles “of salmon-supporting streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds, and lakes” would be erased by the footprint of a mining pit, depending on its size.

“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,” said Dennis McLerran, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10.

“Our report concludes that large-scale mining poses risks to salmon and the tribal communities that have depended on them for thousands of years,” McLerran stated in a Jan. 15 press release.

The battle over the proposed Pebble Mine has been waged for years and extended beyond Alaska’s borders, with environmental activists like actor Robert Redford opposing development, the Christian Science Monitor reported. Multinational jewelers have said they won’t use minerals mined from the Alaska prospect, and pension fund managers from California and New York City last year asked London-based Rio Tinto, a shareholder of mine owner Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., to divest, a request Rio Tinto said it planned to consider.

Politico reports Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and David Vitter (R-LA) were both critical of EPA’s assessment. While the report doesn’t outright state it, Murkowski said, “the agency has strongly implied that this report will be a basis to preemptively veto economic opportunities in the region in the future.”

And Vitter said EPA is sending a “very scary signal” that it is “capable of and willing to kill a project before an application is even submitted.” Democratic Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, meanwhile, said he will reserve judgment on the issue until he has digested the report.

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6 Responses to EPA Report Delivers Blow to Alaska’s Pebble Mine

  1. Thomas Stewart says:

    Good Golly This Sounds Crazy However If Actor Robert Redford Says Arizona Streams Run Into Alaska Waterways, Maybe A Arizona Map Should Be Sent To “Actor” Redford!! Plus The Truth Is That “Liberal Tree Hugers” Make A Fuss About Most Things So The EPA Has A Full Time Job So Check On The Rain Fall In Arizona Plus Water Does Not Run “Up-Hill” Actor Redford.

    • Sonoita Dan says:

      Thomas, you sound like an idiot every time you open your mouth. Good Golly, gee whiz, holy camole’, gosh darn “dem dang tree huggin’ liberals,” Well, I be hog tied.

  2. Liz Banse says:

    Alaska Senator Mark Begich has indeed come out against the mine after reading the EPA’s report. And the Anchorage Daily News has editorialized that the salmon fishery is simply too valuable, that this is the wrong mine in the wrong place.

  3. Kimberlee says:

    This is simply a bad idea. Alaska’s Indigenous People rely upon the habitat threatened by this mine. To risk their lives and culture is, simply, gluttony.

  4. ALAN JOHNSON says:

    MINING IS DEFINITELY NOT MAN’S BEST FRIEND . THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT AT ALL LEVELS SHOWS LITTLE , IF ANY , CONCERN , OVER THE NEGATIVE IMPACT THAT CANADIAN MINING COMPANIES HAVE AS A RESULT OF THEIR FOREIGN ACTIVITIES . THE REGULATIONS IN CANADA ARE HANDLED BY BOTH PROVINCIAL AND FEDERAL ADMINISTRATIONS . THE CONFUSED RESULTS CAN BE BEST SEEN WITH THE PROSPERITY MINE PROPOSAL FOR NORTHERN BRITISH COLUMBIA . CANADIAN MINING COMPANIES HAVE A FREE HAND AT DEVELOPING MINES IN FOREIGN LANDS . THE ROSEMONT PROJECT IN ARIZONA AND THE PEBBLE PROJECT IN ALASKA ESSENTIALLY HAVE THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT’S BLESSINGS . THINGS COULD BE AND SHOULD BE BETTER . GOVERNMENT TO GOVERNMENT RULES AND REGULATIONS SHOULD BE ESTABLISHED AT SOURCE IN ORDER TO HELP REGULATE THE ACTIVITIES OF CANADIAN RESOURCE COMPANIES OPERATING OFFSHORE . CANADIANS WITH CRIMINAL RECORDS IN THE USA ARE NOT ALLOWED TO MOVE FREELY ACROSS THE BORDER INTO THE USA . THIS SHOULD ALSO APPLY TO CANADIAN RESOURCE COMPANIES AND THEIR EXECUTIVES .

    • joel fisher says:

      I worked in Canada for 26 years on environmental problems for the United States Department of State. Canadian resources except fisheries are constitutionally owned and controlled by the province. That includes air and water resources, as well as minerals and forests. Thus a Canadian mine, unless it affects fisheries resources is strictly a provincially regulated operation.

      The international complications would only occur if the waters affected by a mine’s operation cross an international boundary and the mine location is sufficiently close to the international boundary. Then, any water pollution effects that occur downstream across the border and “injure” resources, facilities or people in the other country, any damage to the fisheries if it is migratory and can cross the border, become an international dispute issue under existing treaties. The Government of Canada avoids except where the complaints originate from the Provinces those dispute issues because they must go to the province involved and obtain an agreement for cooperative action. Such agreements historically have forced the federal treasury to provide large subsidies and funding grants to a Province to gain cooperation. The situation clears up slightly if the United States government issues the complaint on behalf of US border communities or First People tribes, bands and related groups. Then, something can be done more easily to regulate and control the bad stuff of the project.

      Canadian investment outside of Canada, unless it violates Canadian federal laws (which are few) has no restrictions. The United States, however, does have “extra-territorial” rules on business ventures of its companies outside of the country. The bribery issues are the main concerns, but not the only focus. However, Canada is a party to various UN conventions and treaties which the US is not, like Law of the Sea. Those agreements sometimes restrict certain Canadian investments outside of Canada in certain economic sectors.

      BTW, Canada does not allow Americans who have criminal records and DUI convictions from entering Canada without prior approval. All Canadian provinces are reciprocal with all U.S. states on moving traffic violations.