Mar 04, 2014 - 6:00pm

EPA Launches Preemptive Strike on Alaska Mine


Senior Editor, Digital Content

Last week, EPA went down a path that could discourage investment in the United States. The Washington Post reports that the agency is proceeding to issue a “preemptive veto” on the Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay, Alaska:

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday it will examine whether to block a massive gold and copper mine proposed in Alaska -- a major win for environmentalists, native tribes and commercial fishing companies that have been seeking to kill the project for more than three years.

While the announcement does not mean the Obama administration has made a final decision to prohibit Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., a Canadian-based firm, from starting construction on the Pebble Mine project, it will delay it for months and make it much harder for the controversial project to move ahead at all.

During the course of the EPA review the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot issue a federal discharge permit, which Northern Dynasty would need in order to dump waste into the surrounding Bristol Bay watershed.

It's estimated that the area contains 5 billion pounds of copper, 3.3 billion pounds of molybdenum, and 67 million ounces of gold, critical minerals for U.S. manufacturers.

What makes this unprecedented decision absurd is that the Pebble Mine Partnership hasn’t submitted a proposed mine plan yet or applied for any mining permits. EPA is taking this action under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act based on an analysis of a hypothetical mine. This approach was declared “questionable” by Oregon State University molecular and toxicology professor, William Stubblefield.

Mike Heatwole, VP Public Affairs for the Pebble Mine Partnership said in a statement:

The steps taken by the EPA to date have gone well outside of its normal practice, have been biased throughout, and have been unduly influenced by environmental advocacy organizations.... As we have stated for many years, we look forward to the opportunity to present our full mine plan and have it properly evaluated under the environmental laws of Alaska and the United States.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also came out against EPA’s actions:

EPA continued to move toward a premature veto based on what it assumes may happen with this project. We already have undeniably grave problems with federal agencies blocking resource production on federal lands in Alaska. Now to see a federal agency overstep its authority and move prematurely to block even the consideration of a permit for potential activity on state lands is something I simply cannot accept.

She adds that EPA’s actions could have a chilling effect on all sorts of projects, not just mines:

It will also open the door to preemptive vetoes on this and other projects, putting development on all of our state’s lands – and both public and private lands across the nation – at risk. EPA asserts that this situation is ‘unique.’ If this action is allowed to stand, where will the next ‘unique’ circumstance arise? EPA’s actions here could have potentially widespread consequences for any development project, including airports and other infrastructure, anywhere in the nation.

Laura Skaer, executive director of the American Exploration and Mining Association, added:

This unprecedented action has sent a chill across the entire investment and business community and has wasted millions of dollars of taxpayers' money.

Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association agrees:

The EPA is deciding it can do whatever it wants. If it can decide to (preemptively veto a project) for this industry, there is no reason it can’t ignore the legal process and preempt other projects from going forward.

Economic consulting firm IHS Global determined that the mine would support nearly 15,000 jobs and add $2.7 billion to the economy. With this precedent, EPA has build another barrier to investment and job creation.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.