Alaskan miners find conflict with EPA over permits

November 14, 2014

Proponents of a potential Alaskan mine have experienced significant pushback from the EPA. This is widely considered to be outside the norm for the state, whose economy is largely driven by extractive industries such as oil and hard-rock mining. Oil and gas producers in the state are also watching the progress closely, concerned that potential new regulations could spill over into their market.

The site in question is known as Pebble Mine, and represents a large undeveloped metals deposit near Iliamna, southwest of Anchorage.

Normally, the developer, in this case Pebble Partnership Ltd., would file its permit with the state and wait for the Corps of Engineers to survey the site. An Environmental Impact Statement would then be released, which outlines potential environmental concerns and other assessments. 

In this case, the EPA is pursuing efforts to exempt the 268-square-mile area that includes the Pebble mine from development or industrial activity. The agency is planning to use authority granted by under Section 404c of the Clean Water Act which allows for the protection of sensitive habitats. 

In a public statement, EPA spokeswoman Hanady Kader said the decision to pursue a 404c process, "reflects the unique nature of the (Bristol Bay region) as one of the world's last prolific wild salmon resources and the threat posed by the Pebble deposit, a mine unprecedented in scope and scale."

However, both mining and oil and gas industry stakeholders have expressed concern that about the move, as it forgoes the Corps of Engineers role in determining land use.

"It would set a dangerous precedent," explained Kara Moriarty, director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association.

The EPA explained that the mine poses significant risk to the world's largest salmon fishery, in Bristol Bay, where runoff from the mine could potentially reach. 

Environmental consultants can help both government and private-sector officials better understand the risks proposed by the development. These professionals ensure that potential threats can be properly mitigated, helping preserve valuable land while promoting local economies.