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Legal challenge brewing regarding Biden administration decision to stop the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay

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Dear EarthTalk: I hear there is a legal challenge brewing regarding a recent Biden administration decision lauded by environmentalists to stop the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay?  Robert E., via email

Bristol Bay is a relatively small but nevertheless important body of water in Southwestern Alaska. It is known for plentiful salmon and blossoming wildlife and has been home to native tribes for centuries. They’ve witnessed the brightest of days and darkest of nights.

However, in the early 21st century a mining operation named “Pebble Mine” wished to lay claims on the area. Spearheaded by Northern Dynasty Minerals, their goal was to extract valuable copper ores that resided in the bay.

Despite a 10+ year battle with Northern Dynasty Minerals and their supporters, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put their foot down with a section 404(c) veto on the proposed operation in January of 2023, “ending” a long-standing feud between two strikingly different groups. The veto was issued on the grounds of how valuable Bristol Bay was to the country, as it creates a staggering $2.2 billion in revenue, 15,000 jobs and 80+ million fish. The tremendous wealth and prosperity Bristol Bay provided to the nation was too valuable, according to the EPA, to not protect.

So, the EPA ruled that the “Pebble Mine” operation be forced to shut down. Happily, ever after, right? Not quite. Although all of the EPA’s previous 14 section 404(c) vetoes have never been overturned, the fight is not exactly in the history books yet. Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor has requested the U.S Supreme Court review the EPA’s decision, claiming it unlawful. The state argues that by issuing orders on their state land, the EPA “usurps the State’s ability and responsibility to protect its own natural resources.” Northern Dynasty Minerals further insists that their operation is necessary for creating supply chain independence. Supporters of “Pebble Mine” call the move a necessity to push back against “tyranny,” while opponents of the operation insist it’s a last-minute prayer to prevent financial losses.

No official Court ruling has been reached yet—understandably as the request is very recent—but both sides will certainly be on their toes should conflict rekindle. Alaska’s overturn request is grounded in state sovereignty, and may get assistance from a conservative Supreme Court.

The operation would extract precious copper and minerals out of the bay, but at the expense of the enormous salmon industry, precious natural resources, and innocent native tribes. Which is more valuable? The answer will come from the federal government.

CONTACTS: State seeks Supreme Court action on EPA’s Pebble Mine decision, alaskasnewssource.com/2023/07/27/state-seeks-supreme-court-action-epas-pebble-mine-decision/; EPA Blocks Pebble Mine with Rare Veto. What Happens Next? nrdc.org/bio/joel-reynolds/epa-blocks-pebble-mine-rare-veto-what-happens-next; Alaska’s Bristol Bay & The Pebble Mine, earthjustice.org/feature/alaska-bristol-bay-pebble-mine.

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