Controversial Alaska Mine Project Wins One In Congress

Controversial Alaska Mine Project Wins One In Congress

By Sean Cockerham, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Supporters of the embattled Pebble Mine project in Alaska are making a desperate effort in Congress and the courts to keep it alive in the face of warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency that it could devastate the finest run of wild salmon left on the globe.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are pushing a bill to keep the EPA from blocking the mine, despite opposition from Washington state lawmakers who say the project could be devastating to the fishing industry in their state.

The mine developer, Northern Dynasty Minerals, is suing the EPA, seeking an injunction to prevent the agency from moving to stop the project.

The developer is in trouble. Mining giants Anglo American and Rio Tinto pulled out of the project in the midst of the controversy, leaving Northern Dynasty scrambling for another partner to provide financial support for the mine. Getting the EPA to back off would help.

After a long series of setbacks, the mine won a small victory Wednesday when the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the bill for a vote in the full House.

The measure would have scant chance of making it through the Democratic-controlled Senate and surviving a likely presidential veto. But mine opponents fear it might become a platform to revive the project’s fortunes, particularly if Republicans take control of the Senate after the November midterm elections.

The fishing and conservation group Trout Unlimited said it planned to launch a social media campaign to rally fishermen to campaign against the bill.

The mine developer “has lost most of its financial backing because of the inherent risks of the proposed mine, and its many failures to produce a viable mining plan. But now the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is rushing to take up the beleaguered cause,” Trout Unlimited said in an email.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the Pebble Mine would “likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the salmon of Bristol Bay.”

McCarthy said the EPA would take action to protect the salmon under the Clean Water Act. That could lead to a veto of the project prior to its permit applications.

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), sponsor of the bill, said the mine should be allowed a chance. His measure would forbid the EPA from halting a project before the permit process.

“It’s un-American to tell a private company or anybody that you can’t even apply for a permit, cannot even consider doing any operations on this land because the government has blocked it out,” he said.

AFP Photo/Jewel Samad

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