EPA chief doubles down on blocking Bristol Bay mining

EPA chief doubles down on blocking Brisol Bay mining

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency said he still supports his agency’s move to block mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska, despite the state asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the decision.

“Let me be clear, we are very proud of our decision to really evaluate the Pebble Mine project and do what is necessary to protect Bristol Bay,” U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan told The Associated Press last week.

In January 2023, the EPA exercised a rarely-used authority it has under the Clean Water Act to veto the Pebble Mine project, claiming that mining could negatively affect salmon fisheries in Bristol Bay watersheds. The agency’s “final decision” halted the Pebble Limited Partnership’s efforts of more than a decade to mine for copper, gold, and molybdenum in the area.

The mining project was first blocked by U.S. President Donald Trump, who decided to oppose the project in August 2020, after initially saying he would consider the perspectives of both mine backers and opponents.

“The Bristol Bay watershed is a vital economic driver, providing jobs, sustenance, and significant ecological and cultural value to the region,” Regan said in January. “With this action, EPA is advancing its commitment to help protect this one-of-a-kind ecosystem, safeguard an essential Alaskan industry, and preserve the way of life for more than two dozen Alaska Native villages.”

However, both Pebble Limited CEO John Shively and the state of Alaska vowed to fight the federal government’s decision.

“The EPA is violating the U.S. Constitution by taking away the state and the project’s legally protected property interests in the mineral rights underlying the land, without any just compensation,” Shively said. “This preemptive action against Pebble is not supported legally, technically, or environmentally. As such, the next step will likely be to take legal action to fight this injustice.”

In July 2023, Alaska’s state government asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the EPA’s action, claiming the federal government had effectively stolen state land to create “a de facto national park.”

“Our constitution is clear: Alaska is responsible for utilizing, developing, and conserving all of the State’s natural resources for the maximum benefit of its people,” Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy said. “Bureaucrats in Washington D.C. are exercising unbridled and unlawful power to choke off any further discussion on this important decision affecting so many Alaskans.”

Conservation groups criticized the state government’s move, arguing that the mining project is opposed by the majority of Alaska residents.

“It’s a highly unusual legal move, and also a highly unpopular one,” Earthjustice Alaska Regional Office Managing Attorney Carole Holley said in a statement. “The governor and his administration are working against the wishes of most Alaskans, especially Bristol Bay residents, by continuing to side with the mine developer.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock / liveyourlife


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