EPA Chief Doubts Alaskan Mine Can Operate Without Harming Natural Resources

Bloomberg BNA — EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy expressed skepticism about whether the planned Pebble Mine in Alaska can operate without affecting the natural resources of the Bristol Bay area.

“It's not understandable to us at this point based on the information we have that the mine can proceed without impacting precious natural resources,” McCarthy said May 2 at the annual meeting of the National Wildlife Federation in Baltimore.

McCarthy defended the agency's decision to invoke Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to consider preemptively blocking the dredge-and-fill permit for the proposed large-scale, open-pit copper and gold mine. She was asked how the agency planned to respond to an April 30 letter sent by the Pebble Limited Partnership stating the agency's use of Section 404(c) was an example of government overreach.

“What the science has told us,” McCarthy said, “is this is an incredibly unique resource and an incredibly large mine that is unique in itself.” She said the agency's action is “an effort to recognize uniqueness of that area in terms of its economic as well as its environmental vitality. It really is an amazing place.”

The EPA invoked its Section 404(c) authority in February, citing potential unacceptable adverse effects from the mining operation's dredge-and-fill activities on the salmon population in the Bristol Bay area, where the proposed mine would be located.

The agency reached tis conclusion in a Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment that was loosely based on information published by the proposed mine's owner, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., and other sources on the Pebble Mine. Northern Dynasty has not submitted an application for a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit yet.

Science, McCarthy said, will inform the EPA's decision going forward. “There will be no shortcuts. We will follow the law.”

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