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The Environmental Protection Agency has come to its senses about the effort to develop the Pebble Mine and shelved its outrageous plan for a preemptive veto of the project.
The veto idea was hatched during the Obama administration. The agency used a laughable botched Bristol Bay risk assessment to justify putting its administrative and regulatory thumb on the permit application scale. Rather than letting the established process go forward, the EPA decided it could deny a permit willy-nilly before any scientific work was even started.
After all, why take a chance that it could actually obtain a permit?
It is estimated the mine would produce 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum, although the project has been scaled back. The proposed mine is owned by a Canadian company, Northern Dynasty Minerals.
It should be noted the site is on state land about 230 river miles, on the Nushagak River, from Bristol Bay.
The EPA planned to go forward with the preemptive 404(c) action under the Clean Water Act to block Pebble’s development. The EPA since 1972 has used the 404(c) section to kill projects only 13 times although some 80,000 wetlands fill permits for individual sites are issued annually.
Using 404(C) to block Pebble would have been its first use to block mining in an entire region.
The EPA’s actions were so egregious Pebble sued in 2014.
A federal judge blocked the agency from finalizing proposed restrictions on mining in the entire Bristol Bay watershed, and the agency and Pebble’s owners settled the lawsuits. The EPA withdrew its proposed “veto” of the mine under Section 404(c) and the Pebble project remained alive to begin a permitting process. Now the EPA has rescinded the plan.
The EPA, for its part, says the proposal for a “preemptive” veto is outdated, because Pebble since has applied for permits.
While the Pebble developers should be happy about the EPA decision, Alaskans are the real winners as the agency returns to a fair permit process.