Mining is one of the relatively few environmentally related issues where federal agencies other than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been given the lead—or at least it is supposed to be that way. Unfortunately, the EPA is trying to hijack the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permitting process underway at the Army Corps of Engineers and kill off Alaska’s Pebble Mine. Today, the Competitive Enterprise Institute joined 11 other organizations in submitting a comment to the agency that takes issue with its anti-mine agenda.
The EPA’s meddling is not new. In 2014, the agency released its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA), which essentially concluded that the Pebble Mine or any other mining activity in the 42,000 square-mile (Indiana-sized) Bristol Bay Watershed would lead to unacceptable environmental harm. As CEI noted, the agency did so based on hypothetical and exaggerated mining scenarios and failed to fully consider state-of-the-art technologies that can mitigate any environmental impacts.
Based on the BBWA, the EPA also made a proposed determination under section 404 of the Clean Water Act that any such mining activity would violate the law—in effect, a death sentence for the mine. And it did this before the Army Corps of Engineers had even begun to review the mine application under NEPA, much less finalize its Environmental Impact Statement.
The Trump Administration partially reversed this process by withdrawing the EPA’s proposed determination under the Clean Water Act. But it did not withdraw the BBWA, and the Army Corps rejected the mine application. The mine developer has appealed and the appeals process is currently underway at Army Corps.
Rather than allow the appeals process to play out, the EPA has decided to interfere once again with a new proposed determination to block the mine, which the agency has opened for public comment. As our comment explains, the EPA’s proposed determination once again tries to circumvent the process underway at Army Corps, and does so with arguments as suspect as those in the 2014 BBWA.
We also note in our comment that the Pebble Mine would be America’s largest new metals mine in decades, and would provide some of the minerals needed to make electric vehicle batteries as well as other elements of the Biden administration’s so-called clean energy transition. While we do not necessarily support that agenda, we do support removing excessive government impediments to increased domestic mining, including the EPA’s unwarranted interference with the Pebble Mine.