The Environmental Protection Agency is blocking construction of the proposed Pebble mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, pending further review of how the gold and copper project will affect the local ecosystem.
Invoking an infrequently used provision of the Clean Water Act, the EPA’s action means the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot issue a permit for the mine until the EPA finishes its review. But judging from a statement from EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, the agency seems unlikely to give its blessing.
“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,” she said.
The action cheered Tiffany & Co. chairman and CEO Michael J. Kowalski, who has become an unlikely public opponent of the mine. In a statement for environment group Earthworks, he commended the EPA on its actions.
Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, sounded a defiant note, blasting the EPA’s decision making and prior assessments as flawed.
“EPA’s actions today are an unprecedented federal action and reflect a major overreach onto an asset of the State of Alaska,” he said in a posted response. “The steps taken by the EPA to date have gone well outside of its normal practice, have been biased throughout, and have been unduly influenced by environmental advocacy organizations.”
Possibly because of the controversy, former partner Anglo American has backed out of the project, and Rio Tinto has said it is reconsidering its investment in mine owner Northern Dynasty.
Earthworks executive director Jennifer Krill intimated the EPA’s action might be the final blow.
“The decision is clear,” she said in a mass email. “The science is definitive. Some places just shouldn’t be mined, and the Bristol Bay watershed is one of them.”