Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy earlier this year called on EPA Region 10 to withdraw its proposed action to prohibit the development of the Pebble deposit in the Bristol Bay area.
EPA Region 10’s administrator Casey Sixkiller didn’t listen.
Instead, he recommended that Environmental Protection Agency put a nail in mining’s coffin in Alaska by vetoing a permit before it is even issued. EPA now has 60 days to make a final decision, and Dunleavy is indicating that he will sue because this is state-owned land, not federal property.
If finalized, this action sets a dangerous precedent, Dunleavy’s officials said. If EPA can preemptively veto one project, it can do it to any project.
“It vetoes a permit that has not been issued and imposes a blanket prohibition on development over 309 square miles of Alaska-owned land. It lays the foundation to stop any development project, mining or nonmining, in any area of Alaska with wetlands and fish-bearing streams,” his office said.
“The State of Alaska has the duty, under our constitution, to develop its resources to the maximum in order to provide for itself and its people, so it’s important that any and all opportunities be explored in furtherance of this idea,” said Governor Dunleavy. “The recent decision on the Pebble mine, which is solely located on State land, is the wrong decision. The State of Alaska does resource development better than any other place on the planet and I challenge others to prove that wrong. Our opportunities to show the world a better way to develop our resources should not be unfairly pre-empted by the Biden administration under a solely political act. This sets a very troubling precedent for the State and the country. If this goes unchallenged, this issue will become precedent-setting, potentially for other states as well.”
“This is an incredible power for a federal agency—staffed by unelected officials, unaccountable to Alaskans—to have,” said Jason Brune, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
The governor pointed out flaws in the agency’s supporting documents.
One is that the veto is acting on a permit that has not been granted. At this juncture, Alaska’s State agencies—the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources—have not yet weighed in; through the State permitting process, the State’s 401 certification process, or through State input as a landowner.
The veto also disregards the Alaska Statehood Act, violates the Clean Water Act, and departs from basic scientific methodology. Of particular concern is EPA’s failure to demonstrate why the Army Corps of Engineers was wrong when it reviewed the same scientific data but arrived at the opposite conclusion—that the proposed mine plan “would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers or result in long-term changes to the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay.”
The State of Alaska was joined by Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming in a letter of opposition filed concurrently with the governor’s.
“Decisions like these,” the Governor’s Office wrote, “throw a wild card into the entire 404 permitting process.”