EPA moving to kill or restrict Pebble Mine project


By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org

The Environmental Protection Agency soon will act to kill thousands of jobs, block millions in annual revenue for state and local governments and expand the federal power to previously unforeseen levels.

HALT: EPA Administrator Gena McCarthy announced Friday the agency will take action to block or greatly restrict the Pebble Mine, a gold and copper mine in the planning stages in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region.

Well, sorta.

In a Friday morning news release, EPA officials announced it will take action to block or greatly restrict the Pebble Mine, a gold and copper mine in the planning stages in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy couched the announcement in protection of local resources.

Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries,” McCarthy said.

The Alaskan region boasts some of the world’s foremost salmon fishing, a natural resource that supports 14,000 fishing jobs. Critics on the Pebble Mine have pushed the EPA to block the mine under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect the salmon and related jobs.

As the EPA moves forward in deciding what do with the mine, the agency is blocking the Army Corps of Engineers from issuing a permit for the project.

EPA officials did not give a timeline for their decision about the mine.

But proponents of the mine, including Pebble Limited Partnership, the business behind the potential project, say that the mine would drive significant economic activity for an economically depressed portion of the state, fill state and local tax coffers with millions of dollars annually and provide precious resources important to modern manufacturing, including computers, laptops, cell phones and iPads.

PLP projects the mine could add more than 1,000 high-paying jobs.

The EPA’s handling of the Pebble Project, into which its backers have dumped more than $500 million for scientific studies of the area, has been controversial.

After calls from environmental activists and Native American tribes close to the proposed mine, the EPA conducted a first-of-its-kind pre-assessment of the project. Using models of what the mine could look, the federal agency projected how the project could affect the watersheds and fisheries.

Usually a mine enters the permitting process before undergoing deep environmental studies from the government. This time, though, the EPA took the unprecedented step of guessing how the mine could function.

The results weren’t pretty. The first assessment warned the mine could damage streams and wetlands and harm fish populations.

Yet, the science was far from settled on the matter. When the EPA put up the pre-assessment for review by scholars, the document was panned. One reviewer went to far as to call parts of the assessment “hogwash.”

The EPA took the document back to the drawing board, revising the assessment after receiving hundreds of thousands of comments during the public inspection period. The agency re-released the report last year, though the findings weren’t much different from the first draft.

PLP has yet to release a statement on the EPA’s latest actions.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican, also hasn’t commented on the EPA’s latest steps, but has long been critical of the entire process. Parnell, like other mine proponents, has said the state should have final say on the mine permitting.

Contact Dustin Hurst at Dustin@Watchdog.org

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