MAC: Mines and Communities

USA: Government considers blocking the Pebble mine

Published by MAC on 2014-03-01
Source: Washington Post, statements, Mining.com (2014-02-28)

EPA considers blocking massive gold mine proposed for Alaska

By Juliet Eilperin

The Washington Post

28 February 2014

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday it will examine whether to block a massive gold and copper mine proposed in Alaska - a major win for environmentalists, native tribes and commercial fishing companies that have been seeking to kill the project for more than three years.

"Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a statement.

"It's why EPA is taking this step forward in our effort to ensure protection for the world's most productive salmon fishery from the risks it faces from what could be one of the largest open pit mines on earth. This process is not something the agency does very often, but Bristol Bay is an extraordinary and unique resource."

While the announcement does not mean the Obama administration has made a final decision to prohibit Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., a Canadian-based firm, from starting construction on the Pebble Mine project, it will delay it for months and make it much harder for the controversial project to move ahead at all.

White House press secretary Jay Carney framed the move as part of President Obama's broader effort to protect public lands and waters.

"The White House strongly supports that decision by the EPA," Carney told reporters Friday. "The step is consistent with the president's commitment to protect pristine American places for future generations."

During the course of the EPA review the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot issue a federal discharge permit. which Northern Dynasty would need in order to dump waste into the surrounding Bristol Bay watershed.

EPA is invoking its authority under the Clean Water Act to determine whether it should permanently bar the Army Corps of Engineers from issuing the discharge permit for the mine.

The mine, which has also attracted investment from global mining giant Rio Tinto PLC, has become a major issue for the conservation community, which considers it one of the most important environmental decisions President Obama can make in his second term.

"It's difficult to imagine a more significant conservation achievement than protecting Bristol Bay," said Chris Wood, president of the advocacy group Trout Unlimited. "This is one of the few places left on earth where nature works as it should, and it's a breadbasket for the world, supplying literally hundred thousands of people with wild salmon."

Bristol Bay is home to a critical fishery that supports nearly half the world's sockeye salmon, and EPA issued a scientific assessment last month that concluded up to 94 miles "of salmon-supporting streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds, and lakes" would be eliminated by the footprint of a mining pit, depending on its size. The fishery not only supports a vibrant commercial fishery, but several native Alaskan tribes that have lived there for centuries.

EPA has invoked its 404© authority under the Clean Water Act only 13 times in its history. In starting the months-long process, the agency is sending a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, the state of Alaska and the mine's sponsor to ask why they believe the operation would not damage the pristine watershed. These groups have 15 days to respond, though the agency can extend that deadline.

After that point EPA's regional administrator in the Pacific Northwest will issue a "proposed determination" that would lay out whether the company can discharge waste into the area, and if so, where and how much. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposal, after which point the regional administrator will send a recommendation to EPA headquarters to be finalized.

EPA has already conducted two peer-reviewed scientific assessments of the project, though proponents of the mine questioned whether the reviews were adequate. Michael Conathan, who directs ocean policy at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, said in a statement the agency's decision "reflects the conclusions amassed over years of scientific and economic analysis."


EPA Acts to Protect World's Largest Wild Salmon Fishery from Pebble Mine

Earthworks Press Release

28 February 2014

Agency invokes Clean Water Act to consider permanently barring mine waste dumping in Bristol Bay watershed

Dillingham, AK & Washington, DC: Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it is invoking its Clean Water Act authority to assess permanently prohibiting or restricting mine waste disposal into Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed. This decision puts on hold attempts to build the Pebble Mine, which would be North America's largest open pit gold-copper mine.

"We are happy with the EPA's decision to take this crucial step," said Kimberly Williams, director of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of ten Bristol Bay Native Tribes and Native Village corporations.. "I and more than 30 other Alaskan leaders just came back from Washington to urge the EPA to do so. Now we're one big step closer to protecting our salmon, our resources and our people from the proposed Pebble mine."

EPA's action is not a final decision to block the mine. But while the review occurs as authorized by section 404c of the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Army Corps cannot take any steps to grant permits. During the review, EPA will rely heavily upon its peer-reviewed scientific assessment of the impacts of large scale mining on the Bristol Bay watershed which was released in January.

"We're thrilled the EPA is taking this important step to protect the world's greatest wild salmon fishery, and the communities that depend on it," said Earthworks executive director Jennifer Krill. She continued, "The decision is clear. The science is definitive. Some places just shouldn't be mined, and the Bristol Bay watershed is one of them."

An unusual coalition of Alaska Native communities, commercial fishermen, conservation groups, jewelry retail companies, churches, investors and recreational fishermen have united against the Pebble Mine proposal and for the protection of Bristol Bay watershed, its people and the 14,000 jobs that depend on its $480 million/year commercial fishery.

"Tiffany & Co. commends the EPA for its efforts to protect Bristol Bay and the 14,000 jobs that depend on a healthy, sustainable fishery," said Tiffany & Co. CEO Michael Kowalski.

***

CONTACTS:
Bonnie Gestring, Earthworks, 406-549-7361
Kim Williams, Nunamta Aulukestai, 907-843-0875

More Information

Our Bristol Bay: http://ourbristolbay.com

EPA's Bristol Bay Assessment page: http://www2.epa.gov/bristolbay

Photo gallery of Bristol Bay, its people (Natives, fishermen), its fish and wildlife, and its landscape: http://ourbristolbay.com/photo-gallery.html

Earthworks is dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of irresponsible mineral and energy development while seeking sustainable solutions.

Twitter: earthworksrocks
Facebook: earthworksaction


Northern Dynasty tanks as EPA blocks issuance of key permit

Ana Komnenic

Mining.com

28 February 2014

Northern Dynasty's share price dropped 32% on Friday after the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will, for the time being, stall the permitting process of the company's proposed Pebble mine in Alaska.

The company was trading at $1.12 per share on the Toronto exchange Friday afternoon, a record low.

Citing concerns over the Bristol Bay's salmon population, the EPA initiated a process "to identify appropriate options" to protect the fish from the potential mining operation.

"Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a statement. "It's why EPA is taking this step forward in our effort to ensure protection for the world's most productive salmon fishery from the risks it faces from what could be one of the largest open pit mines on earth. This process is not something the Agency does very often, but Bristol Bay is an extraordinary and unique resource."

Under the Clean Water Act, the US Army Corps of Engineers usually issues permits to dredge or fill material into waterbodies. But under a rarely-used provision the EPA can revoke that right, and today the Agency initiated the first step of that process. During the subsequent steps which include public hearings and consultations with the Army Corps and the company, no permits can be granted.

At the request of native Alaskan tribes, the EPA has been looking into the Pebble mine for three years now, sparking a heated debate over whether its actions constitute a "pre-emptive veto" considering that the company behind the project, Northern Dynasty, has yet to submit an official proposal.

Last month the agency released its final assessment on how mining would impact the Bristol Bay area and concluded that the activities would put the salmon populations at risk, jeopardizing the livelihoods of tribal communities.

"The assessment indicates that the proposed Pebble Mine would likely cause irreversible destruction of streams that support salmon and other important fish species, as well as extensive areas of wetlands, ponds and lakes," the EPA wrote in a news release Friday.

The US Geological Survey lists Northern Dynasty's deposit as the most extensive mineralized system in the world, according to the company. Drilling of 1,200 holes has determined that the deposit represents 5.94 billion tonnes of measured and indicated resources.

In total $720 million has been invested in the project, though most of that came from Anglo American - the company which dropped out of the Pebble Partnership last year.

Northern Dynasty has said that it plans on initiating federal and state permitting in 2014, though it noted that a final decision on permit timing will depend on securing a new project partner.

Earlier this month the company brought on a new CEO, Thomas Collier. For what he lacks in mining knowledge, Collier makes up for in political connections: The new CEO is a former chief of staff at the US Department of the Interior during the Clinton era.


EPA continues process to study mining impacts in southwest Alaska

Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. statement

28 February 2014

February 28, 2014 Vancouver, BC - Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. (TSX: NDM; NYSE MKT: NAK) ("Northern Dynasty" or the "Company") acknowledges that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is initiating a process under the Clean Water Act to investigate potential impacts on aquatic habitat and fisheries associated with mine development in southwest Alaska. This EPA process, which is a continuation of the Bristol Bay Assessment study initiated in 2011, will include consultation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Pebble Limited Partnership ("Pebble Partnership" or "PLP"), the proponent of the Pebble Project.

In a news release issued today, the U.S. federal agency reports: "Based on input EPA receives during any one of these steps, the agency could decide that further review under Section 404c (of the Clean Water Act) is not necessary."

"For a wide range of reasons, we remain confident that final decisions about Pebble will be made by federal and state regulators working within the rigorous National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permitting process, and not unilaterally and pre-emptively by EPA," said Ron Thiessen, President & CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. "We will participate fully in EPA's process to consider necessary safeguards to ensure that responsible mineral development can co-exist with clean water and healthy fisheries in Bristol Bay, and we will continue our efforts to prepare for the NEPA permitting process to come."

Thiessen said both EPA and the Peer Reviewers they contracted to review the Bristol Bay Assessment have acknowledged that their study is insufficient as a foundation for regulatory decision-making with respect to the Pebble Project. In response to Peer Review comments on the Bristol Bay Assessment, EPA states: "The assessment is not intended to duplicate or replace a regulatory process"...and "We agree that a more detailed assessment of direct and indirect impacts of mining...will have to be done as part of the NEPA and permitting processes."

Thiessen also noted that Northern Dynasty has submitted hundreds of pages of documentation to EPA Inspector General (IG), an independent office within the federal agency, calling for an investigation into the Bristol Bay Assessment. Based on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests undertaken by the Pebble Partnership, the State of Alaska and others, Northern Dynasty's submission to the EPA IG raises serious issues of bias, political motivation and collusion with environmental NGOs in the federal agency's preparation of the Bristol Bay Assessment.

"The US and Alaska have among the most stringent environmental laws for the protection of fish and water in the world, and the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process under NEPA is the gold standard for ensuring that major project developments receive comprehensive, transparent and science-based assessment," Thiessen said. "Given that, along with the global significance of the Pebble deposit and the inherent, well-documented limitations of the Bristol Bay Assessment study, including those acknowledged by EPA itself, we continue to have every confidence that final decisions about Pebble will be made in the future following a comprehensive NEPA/EIS permitting process."

About the Pebble Project

The Pebble Project is an initiative of the Pebble Partnership to responsibly develop a globally significant copper, gold and molybdenum deposit in southwest Alaska into a modern, long-life mine, which will benefit not only the owner, but the people, culture and industries of the State of Alaska, as well as suppliers, consultants and industries in the Lower 48 United States of America.

A recent study authored by IHS Global Insight, entitled The Economic and Employment Contributions of a Conceptual Pebble Mine to the Alaska and United States Economies found the Pebble Project has the potential to support 15,000 American jobs and contribute more than $2.5 billion annually to US GDP over decades of production. The IHS Global Insight study is available at www.northerndynasty.com.

The Pebble Project is located 200 miles southwest of Anchorage on state land designated for mineral exploration and development. It is situated in a region of rolling tundra approximately 1,000 feet above sea-level, 65 miles from tidewater on Cook Inlet and presents favourable conditions for successful mine site and infrastructure development.

About Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.

Northern Dynasty is a mineral exploration and development company based in Vancouver, Canada, which holds indirect interests in over 500 sq. miles of mineral claims in southwest Alaska, USA. Northern Dynasty's principal asset is the Pebble Project, an advanced-stage initiative to develop one of the world's most important mineral resources.

For further details on Northern Dynasty please visit the Company's website at www.northerndynasty.com or contact Investor services at (604) 684-6365 or within North America at 1-800-667-2114. Review Canadian public filings at www.sedar.com and US public filings at www.sec.gov.

Ronald W. Thiessen
President & CEO

 

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