A controversial mining project in Alaska’s Bristol Bay soon could receive a green light after the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday reached a settlement agreement with a small Canadian company that has been seeking to apply for permission to build what could be the world’s largest gold and copper mine. The settlement between the agency and a unit of Northern Dynasty Minerals reverses a controversial Obama-era decision by the EPA that blocked the company from applying for a permit to build the so-called Pebble Mine project in the Bristol Bay watershed of southern Alaska. “We are committed to due process and the rule of law, and regulations that are ‘regular,’” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement. “We understand how much the community cares about this issue, with passionate advocates on all sides. The agreement will not guarantee or prejudge a particular outcome, but will provide Pebble a fair process for their permit application and help steer EPA away from costly and time-consuming litigation.” The project has been stuck in legal limbo since the EPA decision to block the mine, even before the company had submitted its permit applications. The EPA ruling came on the heels of a study that concluded that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed posed significant risk to salmon and adversely could affect Alaska Natives in the region whose culture is built around salmon. The study provided the basis for the EPA to invoke a little-known part of the Clean Water Act called Section 404(c) that allows the EPA 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.” Supporters of the proposed Pebble Mine feared that the use of Section 404(c) could result in the project’s veto before it goes through the permitting process. The settlement on Friday now allows Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals, to apply for a Clean Water Act permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before the EPA moves forward with its own review process. The EPA will not finalize a mine permit until 48 months from the settlement or until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues its final environmental impact statement, whichever comes first. Northern Dynasty Minerals argued that the EPA previously had taken preemptive regulatory action against the project and said that all the company hoped for was a fair assessment from the federal agency. “From the outset of this unfortunate saga, we’ve asked for nothing more than fairness and due process under the law — the right to propose a development plan for Pebble and have it assessed against the robust environmental regulations and rigorous permitting requirements enforced in Alaska and the United States,” Northern Dynasty’s President Ron Thiessen said in a press release. “Today’s settlement gives us precisely that, the same treatment every developer and investor in a stable, first world country should expect.”
And that’s more than fair enough! Kudos to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for getting this process back on track and giving Northern Dynasty a fair shot. After all, they still have many, many federal and Alaska state environmental regulations with which they would have to comply, if they were to get a permit for their mine. Again, they deserve the opportunity to go through the rigorous permitting process. Under Obama’s fascist EPA, they were just shelved because they were frowned on by the liberal, agenda-driven, enviro-wackos that Obama and his thugs at EPA catered to for 8 years.