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EPA shoots down Pebble Mine before it even begins

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Environmental Protection Agency says in a new report that large-scale mining operations in Alaska’s Bristol Bay would put salmon fisheries and native tribes at risk.

This is the third report issued by the agency that the proposed Pebble Mine would harm the environment.

The EPA’s final assessment of the impact of mining on Bristol Bay has been criticized Pebble Mine supporters who say that the agency has abused its power in order to stop a major project that would benefit Alaska’s economy.

“EPA is setting a dangerous precedent by justifying its political prejudices on a flawed Assessment based on hypotheticals,” said Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter, who has lambasted the EPA in the past for wasting taxpayer dollars delaying the mine.

“Today’s announcement shows just how Obama’s EPA operates, choosing political motivation over giving a fair chance to businesses interested in investing in America and creating jobs,” Vitter added.

The EPA’s final assessment does not evaluate the actual mine. Instead, the agency looked at hypothetical mines based on mining scenarios and preliminary plans published by Northern Dynasty Minerals, the company backing the project.

“Our report concludes that large-scale mining poses risks to salmon and the tribal communities that have depended on them for thousands of years,” said Dennis McLerran, administrator for EPA Region 10. “The assessment is a technical resource for governments, tribes and the public as we consider how to address the challenges of large-scale mining and ecological protection in the Bristol Bay watershed.”

Federal regulators found that large-scale mining would destroy 24 to 94 miles of salmon streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands and waterways. The EPA’s report also said that 9 to 33 miles of salmon streams would be altered, which would affect the surrounding ecosystem.

“Extensive quantities of mine waste, leachates, and wastewater would have to be collected, stored, treated and managed during mining and long after mining concludes,” the EPA found. “Consistent with the recent record of similar mines operating in the United States, polluted water from the mine site could enter streams through uncollected leachate or runoff, in spite of modern mining practices.”

“It is a disappointing day when an agency charged with upholding a science based regulatory process ignores its own rules and regulations, and does not take the time nor expend the effort needed to fully assess impacts in the vast Bristol Bay region,” said John Shively, CEO of the Pebble Partnership. “We had higher expectations for the EPA.”

Environmentalists were thrilled with the EPA’s findings. Activists are urging the agency to use its power under the Clean Water Act to block the mine from getting a water pollution permit necessary for it to operate.

“The assessment documents what we’ve feared for years — Pebble Mine would destroy the world-class wild salmon fishery, cost jobs and endanger the communities and wildlife that depend on it,” said Joel Reynolds, western director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Environmentalists and the EPA argue that the agency has the power to veto a mine before it has even begun the permitting process. Mine proponents argue that such a precedent would be dangerous and could imperil $220 billion in similar investments.

“This is a very scary signal that the EPA is sending to businesses — that they are capable of and willing to kill a project before an application is even submitted,” said Vitter.

Anti-mining activists have been intent on shutting the mining project down for years, arguing it would harm Bristol Bay, the world’s largest salmon fishery. The Alaskan Native community in the region was split on whether or not the project should be approved since many of them rely on salmon fishing for a living.

Fishing, however, is a seasonal and volatile industry, and mining proponents argue that Pebble, which could have been the world’s largest gold and copper mine, would be a stable source of economic activity.

“It must be remembered that the report does not assess the effects of the Pebble Project as we have not finalized nor submitted a project for regulatory evaluation,” said Shively. “The report is based upon a so-called ‘hypothetical mine’ of the EPA’s design. The hypothetical mines developed by EPA in their first two drafts did not employ the most advanced engineering and mining practices, as will most certainly be used at Pebble.”

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