Feds Advance Planned Controversial Mine Near Pristine Alaska Bay

The Nushagak River, draining into Bristol Bay in Alaska. (AlaskaTrekker via Wikipedia)

(CN) — A proposed Alaskan mining project cleared another regulatory hurdle Friday despite vehement opposition from environmental advocacy groups who say pollution from the project will harm the salmon industry and the local watershed.

The back-and-forth legal fight over the mine has revolved around the Obama-era U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Trump’s EPA, which allowed the project to move forward last year.

A Canadian company wants to excavate the massive copper-gold deposit at the open pit mine in southwestern Alaska. That would involve construction of a power plant and a proposed natural gas pipeline according to the applicant, the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals.

In 2014, the EPA under the Obama administration delayed the project citing the Clean Water Act with the sockeye salmon industry in mind.

The open-pit mine is roughly 200 miles southwest of Anchorage and has been the subject of numerous environmental lawsuits against the federal government in the last year. The EPA dropped its opposition to the mining project in 2019 and allowed the project to move forward with its federal application.

On Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a comprehensive report describing the project’s intended purpose and possible environmental effects. The final environmental impact statement was published in the Federal Register and moves the application process closer to approval.

Environmental advocacy groups say the project will industrialize waterways and negatively impact the region’s economy. The nonprofit advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and several other environmental organizations sued EPA arguing thousands of acres of surrounding habitat will be polluted and one of the world’s largest salmon runs will be harmed.

Friday’s report from the Corps alters a transportation route, moving from a ferry route over Iliamna Lake to a land route.

“The Army Corps is jamming this through without regard for science or what the public wants — and they know it,” said NRDC senior attorney Joey Reynolds in a statement. “To stick to its accelerated schedule, the agency has ignored major fatal flaws in its proposed review — from data gaps to environmental risks to social impacts.”

“The last-minute change in a transportation route won’t mitigate the nightmare this project poses to water, fish, indigenous people and the region’s whole way of life. Pebble Mine is a failed investment and an environmental disaster waiting to happen, and we will challenge it at every step.”

Bristol Bay, the proposed site of the Pebble Project, is home to moose, ermine, wolverine, muskrat, beaver, river otter, brown bears, salmon and caribou, which happen to attract gray wolves, according to the voluminous report published Friday.

Indigenous people along with commercial and recreational fishing groups are fighting the project and that concentrated effort pushed the EPA in 2018 to hold up its Clean Water Act block — a move the Trump administration withdrew in July 2019.

An EPA spokesperson did not respond to an email requesting comment by press time.

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