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EPA proposal could block huge Alaska mine

Posted: July 19, 2014 - 11:08pm
Workers with the Pebble Mine project test drill in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska near the village of Iliamma on July 13, 2007.  Al Grillo | The Associated Press
Al Grillo | The Associated Press
Workers with the Pebble Mine project test drill in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska near the village of Iliamma on July 13, 2007.

JUNEAU — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed restrictions Friday that would essentially block development of a planned massive gold-and-copper mine near the headwaters of a world premier salmon fishery in Alaska.

The announcement came as the EPA was being sued by Pebble Limited Partnership, the group behind the proposed Pebble Mine, and the state of Alaska for allegedly exceeding its authority.

The state and Pebble Partnership, which was created to design, permit and run the mine, argue the EPA should not be able to veto the project before a mine plan is finalized and evaluated through the permitting process. Pebble has asked that a judge block the EPA from taking any additional steps, but no ruling has been made.

EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said the science is clear “that mining the Pebble deposit would cause irreversible damage to one of the world’s last intact salmon ecosystems. Bristol Bay’s exceptional fisheries deserve exceptional protection.”

The EPA said as part of its analysis it used plans filed by the mine’s owner, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2011. That information indicated the Pebble deposit is likely to involve excavation of the largest open pit ever built in North America, reaching a depth that rivals that of the Grand Canyon at nearly a mile, the EPA said in its report.

The agency looked at three mine scenarios, one based on the worldwide median size deposit that contains copper-, gold- and molybdenum-bearing minerals, which was the smallest scenario analyzed, and two that it said were based on statements made by Northern Dynasty, of mine sizes of 2 billion tons and 6.5 billion tons.

The restrictions proposed by EPA are in line with the estimated impacts of the smallest scenario, which McLerran said is one-eighth the smallest size contemplated in Northern Dynasty’s filing. They include loss of at least 5 miles of streams with documented salmon or loss of 1,100 or more acres of wetlands, lakes and ponds that connect to salmon-bearing streams or tributaries.

The EPA said if the proposed restrictions were finalized, mining of the Pebble deposit would still be possible if the environmental impacts were smaller than those laid out. It’s possible those behind the Pebble Mine could come up with something different than what EPA analyzed.

The EPA called its analysis conservative, focused on the use of certain waters in the region for disposal of materials associated with mining the Pebble deposit. The agency said it did not include impacts associated with build-out and operation of a mine, like roads, pipelines and housing for workers, or potential effects of accidents or mine failures.

The EPA also said the proposal is specific to the Pebble deposit, to mining claims held as part of the Pebble project, and does not affect other deposits or claims.

In 2011, the EPA, petitioned by Alaska Native tribes and others to protect Bristol Bay, initiated a review that culminated in the finding earlier this year that large-scaling mining in the Bristol Bay watershed posed significant risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures that rely on the fish. The agency later invoked a rarely-used process through which it could ultimately restrict or prohibit development of the proposed Pebble Mine to protect the fishery.

The announcement Friday is the next step in that process. EPA plans to take public comment beginning Monday through Sept. 19 and to hold public meetings in Alaska next month. After that, McLerran would have to decide whether to withdraw the proposed action or send it to EPA headquarters for consideration.

Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Partnership, said he was pleased the agency did not flat-out reject any development and instead proposed conditions on future development. However, he said Pebble does not believe EPA has the authority to do even that before a detailed mine plan is submitted and reviewed by state and federal agencies.

He said in a statement that Pebble believes the project must be developed in a way that protects clean water, fish and wildlife and Alaska Native communities that rely on them. But he called the restrictions proposed by EPA “misguided and not based on sound science or regulatory precedent.”

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Bill Burk
Bill Burk 07/20/14 - 08:40 am
The Mine

It appears that the owner of Pebble Beach are in denial if the true facts. They are only concerned with the fact that they will NOT make that money that the mine will make!

Tim Miller
Tim Miller 07/20/14 - 10:34 am
Contaminated waste / Corp. income tax?

Contaminated waste alone from this mine would be enormous.
The lack of water has forced farmers across the state of California to supplement their water supply from underground aquifers. Unfortunately they are now learning that much of the underground aquifers have been contaminated by industrial waste that is being injected underground. Many aquifers had been exempted from protections in the clean water act.
Contaminants migrate how can anyone think its ok to pump waste underground

Pebble will store waste underground and above ground
"Processing 10 billion tons of ore can produce up to 9.9 billion tons of tailings"

"Tailings that contain reactive sulfides- which are present in the Pebble deposit, - can generate sulfuric acid if exposed to both air and water; thus they are often stored under water" see: waste disposal at the pebble @

There is also the above ground waste storage problem. An earth dam will be used to hold back billions of cubic yards of mine tailings slurry ore treated with cyanide and other chemicals. Tailings will need to be contained - forever - to avoid damaging the downstream environment.

Not sure but wonder if the US could tax the earnings made by Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. Seeing that they are a foreign company, I think not. Many US corporations will locate their parent company in other countries, to avoid paying US corporate income taxes.

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