September 18, 2013

Is this the beginning of the end for the Pebble mine?

By Brian T. Hodges Senior Attorney

The Anchorage Daily News reported this week that one of the companies which had been trying to develop the Pebble mine—Anglo American—is pulling out of the project as a result of the EPA’s efforts to stall the permitting process.  The mine, which is still in the design stage, would tap into one of the world’s largest known deposits of copper, gold, and molybdenum.  The project became the subject of controversy, however, when the EPA released an unusual report that criticized the yet-to-be-completed mine plan before the Pebble partnership had even applied for the required permits.  PLF submitted comments on the EPA’s report expressing our skepticism of the EPA’s claimed legal authority to block the mine in the absence of a concrete, reviewable development proposal.

The news of Anglo American’s exit raises many questions about the future of the Pebble mine.  If the project cannot go forward, then Alaska’s Bristol Bay region will not enjoy the estimated billions of dollars in investment and thousands of long-term jobs that the mine would bring.  The EPA may also be emboldened to preemptively “veto” other projects based on “pre-permit” reports that address hypothetical development plans.  Of course, that strategy would run counter to the Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Sackett v. EPA, where the Court admonished the EPA for “strong-arming” regulated parties in the name of “efficiency.”

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