Alaska looks to intervene in EPA mine lawsuit

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Asserting that the Environmental Protection Agency is setting a dangerous precedent that could stifle development everywhere, the state of Alaska is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s use of a potential mine-killing provision.

The state filed its motion May 30, challenging the federal agency’s move to invoke Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to — the EPA claims — protect delicate watersheds and salmon runs vital to the region’s economy, which is based largely on fishing.

TAKING OFF: The state of Alaska seeks to join a federal lawsuit filed against the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is considering pre-emptively shutting down a proposed copper and gold mine in southwest Alaska before the developers present their plans.

Such authority, rarely ever used, would kill a proposed copper and gold mine project in southwest Alaska’s bush country before its developers, Pebble Limited Partnership, applies for federal and state permits.

“Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the EPA seeking to veto a hypothetical project before any permit application has been filed is that it sets precedent for the EPA to take land anywhere in the United States and prematurely limit development of a valuable resource,” said Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty.

“The EPA’s action undermines Alaska’s ability to utilize its mineral resources to grow the economy and create jobs if, after detailed and lengthy environmental review, permitting is warranted.”

Some critics say stifling development is precisely what EPA intends to do, part of the Obama administration’s Climate Change agenda.

Wisconsin state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, earlier this week told Watchdog.org he worries the EPA could pull the same power trip on a proposed $1.5 billion iron-ore mine south of Lake Superior. Like the Pebble proposal, the Wisconsin mine project must go through federal regulatory permitting, too, which involves the EPA.

Hanady Kader, communications director for the EPA’s Seattle-based Region 10 office, has defended the agency’s handling of the Alaska mine.

“EPA has said from the start that any action taken in Bristol Bay would be based on the science and the law,” Kader wrote to Watchdog.org. “While the agency’s authority under Clean Water Act Section 404(c) is clear and has been successfully used in rare occasion in the past, the agency continues to review the science and comments submitted by the Pebble Partnership and the State of Alaska before deciding whether to continue to the next step of the 404(c) process.”

But the EPA has been criticized for its science, with some peer reviewers of the agency’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment lambasting what they have described as faulty science.

In its motion, the state claims the EPA’s overreach infringes on Alaska’s role in regulating land and water uses within its borders.

“Even the EPA acknowledges that its action is unprecedented in the history of the Clean Water Act,” the attorney general’s press release states.

Normally, several state agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would review a proposed mineral resource project, requiring over 50 different permits, including appropriate conditioning and mitigation to minimize environmental impacts while allowing the productive management of state mineral resources.

Pebble Limited Partnership spokesman Mike Heatwole said the company has long believed “EPA’s overreach” is about “much more than Pebble.”

He said all involved should stand up for a “thorough and rigorous permitting process to properly evaluate projects in Alaska and the nation.”

“The state’s intervention recognizes this and we appreciate the state for standing up for due process and for defending Alaska’s critical role in this issue,” Heathole said.

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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