National Jeweler Network

Public Policy & Issues

Pebble mine plans on hold after EPA action

March 03, 2014

Organizations seeking to block development of the Pebble mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska--home of the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery--notched yet another victory last week when the EPA announced it was going to review the project.

Washington--The Environmental Protection Agency has invoked its authority under the Clean Water Act to assess the impact that the proposed Pebble mine project in Alaska will have on the Bristol Bay watershed, meaning the project cannot go forward, at least for now.

According to Washington-based environmental group Earthworks, a mine opponent, the EPA’s action is not a final decision to block the mine. But what it does mean is that the EPA will review the plan for the mine and decide whether or not to permanently prohibit or restrict mine waste disposal into the watershed, a move that could mean the mine won’t get built.

While the review is taking place, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot grant any permits for construction on Pebble.

Earthworks added that the EPA’s review will rely heavily upon the agency’s own peer-reviewed scientific assessment of the impacts of large-scale mining on the Bristol Bay watershed, which was released in January. This is a positive for mine opponents, since that study found that there are severe risks associated with large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed, including destruction of salmon streams and more than 5,000 acres of wetlands, lakes and ponds.

RELATED CONTENT: Proposed Pebble mine is high risk, study finds

Opponents of the mine are hailing the EPA’s decision to invoke the Clean Water Act as a victory. “We are happy with the EPA’s decision to take this crucial step … Now we’re one big step closer to protecting our salmon, our resources and our people from the proposed Pebble mine,” said Kimberly Williams, director of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of 10 tribes native to Bristol Bay and Native Village corporations.  

Jewelers have been among those to speak out against development of the mine, with a number of retailers--including Tiffany & Co., Zale Corp., Leber Jeweler Inc. in Chicago and Ben Bridge Jeweler--vowing never to use gold from Pebble if the mine ever was constructed.

Last September, mining company Anglo American withdrew from the Pebble mine project. Chief Executive Mark Cutifani said while Pebble was a “deposit of rare magnitude and quality,” the company opted to drop out after re-evaluating its entire slate of long-term projects.

Northern Dynasty is now the sole remaining company eyeing development of the Pebble mine. Rio Tinto owns a 19 percent stake in Northern Dynasty, but the mining company said in December that it intends to undertake a strategic review of its stake in Northern Dynasty and may divest, mentioning the Pebble mine as a specific consideration.