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Pebble Mine partner backs out of EPA-targeted project

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor
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One of the two companies heavily invested in a controversial Alaska mine project has backed out, leaving an uncertain future for a project that has been relentlessly hounded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

British mining giant Anglo American has withdrawn from the Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska despite having invested $541 million in the project. Anglo American’s CEO said the decision was driven by the company’s desire to minimize risk and seek high-value investment opportunities.

“Our focus has been to prioritise capital to projects with the highest value and lowest risks within our portfolio, and reduce the capital required to sustain such projects during the pre-approval phases of development as part of a more effective, value-driven capital allocation model,” Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani said in a statement.

A proponent of the mine offered more direct response.

“This is a prime example of why the economy isn’t recovering. EPA and their far-left environmental allies are using unprecedented tactics to shut down potential projects and corresponding jobs before they’ve even begun the permitting process,” said Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Anglo American was hailed by environmentalists, who fear the Pebble Mine project would be environmentally harmful to nearby Bristol Bay, Alaska.

“Mining corporation Anglo-American announced on Monday it has canceled its investment in the Pebble copper-mine project in Bristol Bay, Alaska, dealing a major blow to a proposal to exploit a vast swath of American wilderness that is home to the world’s largest remaining wild salmon fishery,” said Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks.

Now, Anglo American’s former partner Northern Dynasty Minerals will have 100 percent ownership over the project, and plans to move forward with the project.

“Our understanding is that the other partner will continue to move forward with the Pebble project, and in that regard we will persist in our efforts to ensure that EPA focuses on fact-based science and standard permitting reviews, and that the Agency cease its prejudicial regulatory tactics,” Vitter added.

The Pebble Mine project has been in limbo for many months now as the EPA considers testing its authority under the Clean Water Act to veto the project by preventing it from getting a necessary water pollution permit.

The mine has been the focal point of a battle over the limits of the agency’s Clean Water Act powers, pitting the EPA and environmentalists against mining supporters.

The project’s defenders say the EPA has overreached in attempting to preemptively veto the Pebble Mine, since there are no actual plans for the project and the mine developers have not yet gone through the permitting process.

Yet environmentalists and the EPA contend that the agency does have the authority under the law to veto water pollution permits, even before any plans have been put forward.

“In light of a major multinational mining corporation pulling out of Pebble Mine due to its risks, Earthworks urges the EPA and Administrator McCarthy to use their legal authority under the Clean Water Act to halt development of the mine,” Krill said. “According to the EPA’s own scientific assessment, development of the mine would destroy more than 90 miles of salmon spawning streams, thousands of acres of wetlands, and the livelihoods that depend on these vital natural resources.”

But the assessment that Krill refers to  relied on a hypothetical mining scenario to determine its environmental impacts, not any actual mining plans.

“As Sen. Murkowski has consistently said, her concern is that the EPA is going beyond its authority in circumventing the established federal permitting process and setting a dangerous precedent for proposed economic development projects nationwide,” said Robert Dillon, spokesperson for Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Pebble Mine supporters also argue that the mine would help revitalize southwest Alaska’s economy. According to the Pebble Limited Partnership, the mine’s large gold, copper and molybdenum deposits could support about 2,900 operating jobs. Mine workers could earn $109,500 per year on average. They also claim the mine would contribute up to $1.4 billion annually to Alaska’s economy.

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