Alaska Balks at Unprecedented EPA Action Against Pebble Mine

Published June 28, 2012

Alaska state officials are crying foul after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took the unprecedented step of issuing a highly critical assessment of a mining project even though plans for the project have yet to be developed.

EPA Issues Critical Analysis

EPA on May 18 issued a highly critical draft analysis of the Pebble mine project in southwest Alaska. The Pebble mine is expected to produce 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold, and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum. These materials are currently worth close to $1 trillion. EPA’s analysis asserted the project would cause the loss of 87 miles of streams and seven square miles of wetlands. 

“We conclude that, at a minimum, mining at this scale would cause the loss of spawning and rearing habitat for multiple species of anadromous and resident fish,” EPA asserted. Anadromous fish are those that swim up rivers to spawn.

Mitigation Plans Ignored

Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively countered that EPA is ignoring Pebble-financed reclamation projects that would mitigate most or all of the negative environmental impacts. Rerouting rivers and streams potentially affected by the proposed mine can actually improve conditions for area fish, Shively noted. Pebble has spent more than $100 million on environmental and socioeconomic studies to create the best possible plan for the mine.

“We have taken several years and expended considerable resources to study the ecosystem in a small area around the Pebble deposit,” Shively noted in a statement to the press.

“EPA’s work has not yet approached the level of rigor and completeness required for a scientific assessment,” Shively added.

Environmental Impacts Disputed

Opponents of the mine argue the environmental costs are too high.

“EPA came out with an assessment and found unacceptable impacts to the fishery, and based on that, we feel they have the right to take action,” said Nelli Williams, a special projects coordinator for Trout Unlimited. 

“We are hoping they will take a hard look at the water quality,” Williams added.

Unprecedented EPA Action

Alaska state officials and the Pebble Partnership are particularly concerned about EPA taking the unprecedented step of publishing an environmental assessment before the Partnership has even completed and submitted plans for the mine.

“Until we complete our work and submit an application under NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act], the EPA’s work as it relates to our project is based entirely on speculation,” said Shively.

EPA’s “rush to judgment in the absence of a detailed proposal and permit application should concern all Alaskans,” wrote Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty in a guest editorial in the Anchorage Daily News. “We do not yet know what form that mine will take and what precautions and mitigation measures the company will propose for the project.”

“I am not ‘for’ or ‘against’ the Pebble mine,” Geraghty explained.… “What I am ‘for,’ and what I hope all Alaskans are for, is the responsible development and management of our state’s resources for the benefit of all Alaskans and the protection of Alaska’s rights as a state to do so without encroachment by the federal government.”

Economic Benefits

If allowed to proceed, the Pebble mine will provide tax revenues for the nearby local economies while creating thousands of jobs for Alaskans and reducing the nation’s dependence on overseas sources of the materials to be mined there. 

“The Pebble mine is exactly the type of project this country needs,” said Jay Lehr, science director for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News. “The Pebble mine will be one of the most productive mines in history. It will create tremendous wealth for Alaska and the nation as a whole. It is like somebody dropping an enormous wealth bomb on the state and nation.”

“Just as importantly,” Lehr added, “the Pebble Partnership is sparing no expense in conducting environmental analyses and preparing for environmental mitigation. While the economic benefits are huge, the environmental costs will be minimal. This is the very definition of a no-brainer decision.”

Cheryl Chumley ([email protected]) is a digital editor with the Washington Times’ newest endeavor,