by Thomas Catenacci
The Biden administration proposed stringent clean water restrictions on a watershed in southwest Alaska Wednesday, a potential fatal blow to a planned critical mineral development project.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would review a proposal to prohibit the use of the Bristol Bay watershed as a discharge site for the Pebble Project, a mining project that would produce about 1.5 billion tons of critical minerals, including copper and molybdenum, over 20 years. The rule, which the agency will publish Thursday, would protect Bristol Bay rivers, streams and wetlands that support the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, according to the announcement.
“Bristol Bay supports one of the world’s most important salmon fisheries,” EPA Regional Administrator Casey Sixkiller said in a statement. “Two decades of scientific study show us that mining the Pebble Deposit would cause permanent damage to an ecosystem that supports a renewable economic powerhouse and has sustained fishing cultures since time immemorial.”
The mine’s developer Pebble Partnership, though, has argued the project wouldn’t have a “discernible” effect on local salmon populations’ genetic diversity or movements. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) appeared to confirm this, saying the project “would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers and result in long-term changes to the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay” in its final environmental impact statement published in July 2020.
The Pebble Partnership has also noted the importance of copper and molybdenum for green energy technology like electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels.
“This is clearly a giant step backwards for the Biden Administration’s climate change goals,” Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively said in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I find it ironic that the President is using the Defense Production Act to get more renewable energy minerals such as copper into production while others in the Administration seek political ways to stop domestic mining projects such as ours.”
President Joe Biden invoked the 1950 Defense Production Act in March in an attempt to shore up the domestic renewable energy technology supply chain which China and other hostile nations have dominated for years.
In 2021, the U.S. mined 48,000 metric tons of molybdenum, compared to the 130,000 metric tons mined in China, and mined 1.2 million metric tons of copper, less than Chile, China, Peru and the Congo, U.S. Geological Survey data showed. Copper and molybdenum are both vital for green energy tech, especially offshore wind projects, according to the International Energy Agency.
“The Pebble Project remains an important domestic source for the minerals necessary for the Biden Administration to reach its green energy goals and if it blocks Pebble it will have to seek minerals to meet its goals from foreign sources which simply do not have the same environmental standards as we do,” Shively added.
He noted that the Pebble Partnership would oppose any action taken outside of the USACE environmental review process. The EPA announcement was a “political maneuver to attempt to block our ability to work through that established process,” he told TheDCNF.
The EPA proposal represented a shift from the Trump administration which nixed a 2014 determination in July 2019 and enabled the federal government to continue its environmental review of the Pebble Project. The Biden administration argued that the Trump-era decision was illegal in a September court filing.
“Alaskans should be outraged, as Pebble – based on science – will never impact the Bristol Bay fishery, but will provide hundreds of jobs, along with millions of tons of domestic supplies of minerals needed for renewable energy products,” Rick Whitbeck, Alaska state director for Power the Future, said in a statement, adding that the action was a “blatantly political move.”
Environmental, tribal and fishing industry groups have lined up against the project since it was announced years ago. Several groups formed the Bristol Bay Defense Fund coalition which started the Stop Pebble Mine initiative.
The EPA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from TheDCNF.
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Thomas Catenacci is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.