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article imageGOP lawmakers try to revive Pebble mine project under Trump EPA

By Karen Graham     Feb 27, 2017 in Environment
Some GOP lawmakers and mining companies are banking on the EPA's new head, Scott Pruitt reversing an earlier veto by the agency of a controversial mine project in Alaska's Bristol Bay, despite local opposition and the threat to sockeye salmon fisheries.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science Committee, last week wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, hoping that he will reverse the agency's veto of the controversial Pebble Mine project in southwest Alaska's Bristol Bay, according to Fox News.
Smith's letter claims that the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its regulatory authority in applying the 2014 veto. Smith wrote: “The committee has determined that the preemptive action taken for the Pebble Mine Project was unprecedented under the Clean Water Act and was justified by a questionable scientific assessment that relied on predetermined conclusions developed by EPA officials."
He added that by rescinding the 2014 veto, “it will allow a return to the long-established Clean Water Act permitting process and stop attempts by the EPA to improperly expand its authority.” On Friday, July 18, 2014, the EPA issued a proposal, using the Clean Water Act that would limit mining activity in the Bristol Bay Watershed, according to Digital Journal who has been following the story.
An exploration camp sits on top of the Pebble deposit  one of the largest undeveloped copper  gold a...
An exploration camp sits on top of the Pebble deposit, one of the largest undeveloped copper, gold and molybdenum deposits in the world.
The section at the heart of the Clean Water Act
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act is what Smith and his committee are all up-in-arms over, claiming the EPA's use of this section was "unprecedented" and the EPA's use of that section has set up a "dangerous precedent," because it would allow federal agencies to curtail mining projects and "other environmentally sensitive" projects.
Section 404 reads: The EPA is allowed to “restrict, prohibit, deny or withdraw the use of an area as a disposal site for dredged or fill material if the discharge will have unacceptable adverse effects on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas, wildlife or recreational areas.”
“The issue we’re concerned about is that there is a process that the EPA should follow in granting permits,” a House Science Committee aide who asked to remain anonymous told Fox News. “The chairman is looking to Scott Pruitt to bring back some semblance of regular order to the EPA.”
The Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve - Bristol Bay  AK   -- Mining claims inside the reserve are highli...
The Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve - Bristol Bay, AK -- Mining claims inside the reserve are highlighted in orange.
The Pebble mine story
Bristol Bay lies at the eastern arm of the Bering Sea. In its upper reaches, it has some of the highest tides in the world, with extremes of tides reaching as much as 30 feet. The bay is also home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, as well as big runs of chum salmon, silver salmon, and king salmon, all occurring annually.
Bristol Bay is not only essential economically to commercial fisheries and the associated canneries, but to sport-fishing, hunting, and tourism in nearby Katmai National Park and Preserve. In 2001, Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd. a Canadian mining company, optioned 186 square miles of what is called the Pebble Deposits, lying just north of Lake Iliamna and Lake Clark, according to Digital Journal.
According to Northern Dynasty CEO Ronald Thiessen, the Pebbles project's measured and inferred resources of copper, gold, molybdenum, and silver makes it one of the largest undeveloped mineral prospects in the world. So yes, it is a very rich investment, if anyone can dig it up.
A stern full of Bristol Bay Sockeye. The F/V Mecca. Captain: Turk. Deckhand: Marco Casagrande. 2006.
A stern full of Bristol Bay Sockeye. The F/V Mecca. Captain: Turk. Deckhand: Marco Casagrande. 2006.
And Thiessen is also betting on the Trump administration's new EPA administrator to set things right. The Alaska Journal reported in January this year that Northern Dynasty has told investors it intends to file for permits in 2017.
And while the rollback of the EPA veto of the Pebbles project may be sounding sweet to GOP lawmakers, in Alaska, there is not much love for opening the mine. Not only do the local environmentalists and large fisheries industry oppose it, but the indigenous people of the region don't want it, either.
“My family has been here for generations and we rely on the salmon to feed our families and to have a livelihood,” Kimberly Williams, the executive director of the Bristol Bay nonprofit Nunamta Aulukestai, told Fox News. “Salmon fishing is not just part of my culture and history, but it provides jobs for everyone in the community and helps send people to college. The mine puts all that at risk.”
More about Pebble Mine Project, Alaska, bristol bay, Sockeye salmon, Epa
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