via Wikimedia Commons” width=”800″ height=”510″/>

Gravel mine. By Erin McKittrick, (AlaskaTrekker at English Wikipedia), CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Environmentalists, Alaska Natives and commercial fishermen say they are both confident and anxious as they wait for the EPA to announce a final ban on mining waste in Bristol Bay, Alaska, home to one of the world’s largest salmon fisheries. which will effectively kill the estimated $350 billion gold and copper mine.

The Pebble Mine has seen a decades-long battle between three administrations, all of whom have decided to block the mine to protect the fishery. Developers, Canadian company Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. and other investors doing business as Pebble Limited Liability Company are still determined to support the project.

It would be unusual for the EPA to reverse its previous decision to ban mining waste from Bristol Bay under a provision of the Clean Water Act, but Pebble LLC is unwilling to go to court with the EPA to obtain the necessary permits. , according to the press secretary.

Meanwhile, Delores Larson, who lives in her hometown of Kaliganek, Alaska, on the Nushagak River, says the prospect of a shingle mine getting the green light is terrifying. There, she said, there are no grocery stores, no lettuce, no bananas, and no other imported products. But there are native berries, moose and other wildlife, including salmon that begin their trek north to spawn about 125 miles downstream in the Bristol Bay fishery.

Her people are “salmon people,” she said in an interview in Washington last month, scrolling through photos of the bright pink catch drying in a shed at home in Colliganec and the dark, glistening fillets of her famous cured salmon. “Seven is gold for us.”

Larson traveled more than 3,000 miles to get the EPA to finalize its “proposed decision” announced in May to “prohibit and restrict the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed (South Fork Kaktuli River, North Fork Kaktuli River, and Upper Talarik Creek) . watersheds) as disposal sites for the dumping of excavated or filled material associated with the mining of a gravel deposit.’ The agency says the project would threaten the Gulf’s salmon fishery, which has produced more than 76 million salmon this year, an all-time record catch.

“Honestly, we would cease to exist as a people,” she said with a sigh, wondering what would happen when the Pebble Mine was built. “It’s our whole life. We’re totally dependent on our salmon.”

But developers are reluctant to let the EPA stop the multibillion-dollar project, which would tap what geologists say is one of the world’s largest reserves of gold, copper and other minerals. They believe their waste containment plan is sound, despite what the EPA has said in various reports.

“The record that the EPA has tried to create for this action is without merit,” said Mike Heatwall, the partnership’s vice president of public affairs. “Regardless of the outcome, we will continue to press our case for this important mineral project.”

A final decision was expected this month after the EPA received a flood of public comments that mostly supported the waste ban plan. But on Sept. 6, the agency announced it was delaying a final determination until December so it could fully consider all comments, though it didn’t escape notice that this meant no announcement would be made until after the midterm elections.

And the inevitable legal battle ahead will prolong the already protracted battle for the project.

Northern Dynasty Minerals began exploration of the Pebble deposit in 2002, obtaining mining rights for the project on 186 square miles of Alaska state land, including a pit 2 to 3 miles wide and about a mile deep.

The chemicals needed to separate the copper and gold create a lot of waste, which led to the partnership’s previous proposal to build mounds or earth dams up to 740 feet high to hold up to 10 billion tons of mine tailings. The Pebble Partnership says the tailings are not dangerous, although environmentalists say they are a toxic mix of sulfuric acid, mercury, arsenic, lead, zinc, cadmium and metals.

The tailings, or sulfide waste, would have to be stored “forever” because they do not decompose naturally. The partnership’s current plan calls for “permanent underwater storage” that “does not pose a risk of failure and does not threaten downstream habitat,” according to the website.

But the EPA is not yet convinced that dams can contain 100 percent of the tailings. In 2012 and 2014, President Barack Obama’s EPA released draft and final assessments that said the gravel mine would destroy up to 94 miles of streams, including 22 miles of salmon-growing habitat, and eliminate more than 7 square miles of wetlands , which support fisheries. And the EPA said a breach in the dams designed to contain the mine tailings would have “devastating effects on aquatic habitats and biota.”

“It’s something that scares everyone in Alaska,” said former Alaska Republican Sen. Rick Halford, who has spent the past several decades fighting the gravel mine. “Eternal” is a word you should hear in church, not some grand scheme of exploitation.”

Despite growing opposition from local residents and environmentalists, Pebble LLC applied for a permit to the Army Corps of Engineers in 2017. After several years of study, the Corps issued an environmental impact statement in 2020 that was favorable to the mine, essentially saying it could be built and operated without harming Bristol Bay fisheries, and it appeared the Trump administration would give it the green light .

Then the tide began to turn against the mine. Before the permit was issued, a leaked conversation between the partnership’s executives revealed they expected to continue mining for 180 years – far longer than the proposed 20-year plan.

Opponents also accused the Corps of fast-tracking the environmental assessment, and a surprising array of conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts, including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., opposed the project.

In a surprising twist, the Trump administration denied a permit for the mine in November 2020, just weeks after President Donald Trump’s failed re-election bid. Then President Joe Biden’s EPA appeared poised to shut down the issue for good in May with a proposed determination to ban mining waste from Bristol Bay.

Although the EPA has yet to announce a final decision, both sides in the battle expected the agency to follow through on its plan, and opponents sensed victory.

“This project is uneconomical,” Halford said. “It is too big, there are not enough investors. Even a major mining company would have to invest six to seven billion dollars to achieve this.”

The Pebble limited partnership initially attracted three major investors — Tokyo’s Mitsubishi Corporation, London-based Anglo American and Rio Tinto Group, also based in London. But in 2014, all three refused. However, the partnership received a $9.4 million pledge from a new unnamed investor in August, including a deal to potentially invest up to $47 million over a two-year period.

According to Heatwall, a representative of the partnership, the developers are already preparing for legal battles. Instead of rewriting the permit in a more fish-friendly way, the partnership plans to attack the basis for the EPA and Corps’ decisions, he said.

Pebble Limited Partnership has appealed the corporation’s denial of the permit, saying the decision “is inconsistent with the findings of the final EIS published on the project,” Heatwall said. This appeal is still under consideration.

As for the EPA’s definition under the Clean Water Act, Heatwall said such a broad ban, which is “23 times the size of our project’s footprint,” has never been issued and is “not legal under the statute.”

Many Alaskans oppose the mine — a poll commissioned by mine opponents found 68 percent had a somewhat or very unfavorable opinion of the project — but the state’s attorney general and governor have sent letters to the EPA warning that the decision would create an “unstoppable EPA.” with a “wild card that can be played at will to stop projects”.

Alaska U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan opposed the mine, but also opposed the EPA making a “final decision” that they said could prevent Alaskans from developing future development projects.

“This is the wrong approach to ensuring confidence in Bristol Bay and stability in Alaska,” Sullivan said in May, “and could jeopardize the ability of Alaskans to responsibly develop our world-class resources in other parts of the state for the benefit of our community.”

As well as the development company’s bid to get the green light for the project, Larson and Halford say that regardless of the EPA’s decision, they will continue to fight to keep Bristol Bay intact, including pushing for legislation in Congress.

“How do you fix something that’s already perfect? ​​You can’t,” Larson said. “It’s a never-ending battle. I am tired and exhausted. I want to stop this… but we have to make these defenses durable as soon as possible.”

EPA offers protection for Bristol Bay in potential blow to Pebble Mine development

2022 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., all rights reserved.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Citation: Both sides dig in as final EPA decision on Pebble Mine nears (2022, October 4) Retrieved October 4, 2022, from nears.html

This document is subject to copyright. Except in good faith for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for informational purposes only.