Pruitt’s EPA puts brakes on Pebble Mine proposal in Bristol Bay, Alaska

Published on
January 30, 2018

Activists fighting a proposed gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska breathed a sigh of relief on Friday, 26 January, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) upheld an Obama-era declaration that the proposed Pebble Mine, which would sit in the watershed for the world’s biggest sockeye salmon run, could cause irreversible harm to area fisheries. 

Fishermen, native groups, and conservationists fought against the mine proposal for years, and won a temporary victory with a 2014 EPA ruling that stated mining could lead to “significant and irreversible harm” to local fishing grounds. But after years of eyeing the site, the project’s main backer, Northern Dynasty Minerals, filed for its first federal application in December 2017, just a month after President Donald Trump was elected, and fanned fresh concerns with activists opposing the mine. 

EPA head Scott Pruitt issued a statement Friday that the order does not block the mine outright, but does shelve the permitting process until further environmental impact reviews can be conducted.

“It is my judgement at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there,” Pruitt said in the statement. “Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection. Today’s action allows the EPA to get the information needed to determine what specific impacts the proposed mining project will have on those critical resources.”

Last year, more than 56 million sockeye salmon ran up Bristol Bay’s rivers, fueling economic activity that adds up to USD 1.5 billion (EUR 1.2 billion) annually, according to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

Northern Dynasty Mineral’s president and CEO Ron Thiessen also issued a statement Friday, indicating his group would move forward with the permitting process.

“We have every confidence that Pebble’s ultimate project design will meet the rigorous environmental standards enforced in Alaska and the U.S.,” Thiessen said in a statement posted on Northern Dynasty’s website. 

Contributing Editor reporting from Seattle, USA

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