EPA moves to block Pebble Mine

Aerial view of braided wetlands and tundra that is typical of the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska, July 26, 2010. (Photo: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

The Environmental Protection Agency announced this morning that it will resume the process that could result in blocking the proposed Pebble gold mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

“The Bristol Bay Watershed is an Alaskan treasure that underscores the critical value of clean water in America,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in the agency’s emailed statement. “Today’s announcement reinforces once again EPA’s commitment to making science-based decisions to protect our natural environment. What’s at stake is preventing pollution that would disproportionately impact Alaska Natives, and protecting a sustainable future for the most productive salmon fishery in North America.”

The announcement follows the success of mine opponents in a federal lawsuit. Environmental groups, Alaska Native organizations and fishermen sued to prevent the EPA from withdrawing the process begun under the Obama administration to “veto” the mine’s permit, using the Clean Water Act, specifically section 404(c). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government can only halt the process if it finds that depositing mined materials into a protected waterway would be “unlikely to have an unacceptable adverse effect.”

The case was sent back to the U.S. District Court, and the government’s response is due Friday.

“The agency believes the 2019 withdrawal notice did not meet the Ninth Circuit’s standard,” the EPA said in its announcement Thursday.

Assuming the judge in the case grants the EPA’s request to reverse course, the agency said it would resume the Obama administration’s effort to consider Clean Water Act protection for parts of the Bristol Bay watershed.

This is a developing story and will be updated when more information is available. 

Alaska Public Media

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