Mr. Ronald Thiessen reports
NORTHERN DYNASTY: US ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY WITHDRAWS PROPOSED DETERMINATION
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken action to withdraw a proposed determination initiated by the Obama administration in 2014 under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in an attempt to veto southwest Alaska's Pebble project before it received an objective, scientific regulatory review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
"Today's announcement means the environmental impact statement (EIS) and permitting process for the Pebble project currently being led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may advance to a final record of decision in 2020 without the cloud of uncertainty created by EPA's unprecedented, pre-emptive regulatory action," said Northern Dynasty president and chief executive officer Ron Thiessen. "The Corps expects to finalize the Pebble EIS in early 2020 and issue a final record of decision by the middle of next year."
The following is excerpted from a statement released today by the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), Northern Dynasty's 100-per-cent-owned U.S. subsidiary.
"Finally, this administration has reversed the outrageous federal government overreach inflicted on the State of Alaska by the Obama administration," said Pebble Partnership chief executive officer Tom Collier.
"This was an action and an administration that sought to vastly expand EPA's authority to regulate land use on state, private and native-owned lands throughout the United States and, in doing so, kill one of America's most important mineral projects before a development plan was proposed or a comprehensive EIS permitting review was undertaken. The proposed determination lifted today was a pre-emptive veto that had never before been attempted in the 45-year history of the Clean Water Act -- a fact acknowledged by the former administrator's senior staff."
EPA's proposed determination was not based on a development plan proposed by the Pebble Partnership, but on hypothetical mining scenarios prepared by EPA itself, and assessed in an alleged scientific study known as the Bristol Bay watershed assessment (BBWA). Following extensive hearings in the house committee on science, space and technology, the BBWA was determined to be both a result of an abuse of due process and an unfortunate attempt on EPA's part to justify its predetermined intent to kill the Pebble project before a development plan was proposed or a fair, science-based regulatory review was undertaken.
"Since its founding in 1970, the same year the National Environmental Policy Act was signed into law, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has championed NEPA and the EIS process as the Magna Carta of environmental protection," Mr. Collier said of the national environmental activist organization that has spearheaded the campaign against Pebble, including through secret collusion with Obama's EPA.
"In the singular instance of Pebble, however, NRDC has demanded that a project be killed before an EIS is completed. Could it be the NRDC is scared that, if Pebble's development plan is afforded the opportunity to be comprehensively reviewed by independent experts, it will be found to be permittable under federal and state law, and pose no risk to the salmon fisheries of Bristol Bay?"
Northern Dynasty and the Pebble Partnership expressly thanked Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy for his leadership in encouraging EPA to withdraw its proposed determination.
Mr. Collier stated: "As Governor Dunleavy clearly recognizes, major companies will not invest in resource development in Alaska if projects can be vetoed before they receive a fair review. Alaska has needed this kind of leadership for years. Governor Dunleavy appears to be fulfilling his pledge to make sure the world knows Alaska is open for business and supports responsible resource development."
The formal withdrawal of EPA's proposed determination is one of a series of important milestones that Pebble believes demonstrate it is progressing steadily toward a positive record of decision. Others include:
In December, 2017, Pebble submitted a permit application to the Corps for a project with a substantially smaller development footprint and enhanced environmental safeguards. This includes: elimination of cyanide from mineral processing; removal of all mine facilities from the Upper Talarik drainage; no permanent waste rock storage on surface; enhanced tailings storage facility safety and stability measures; and more robust water management and treatment capabilities. Pebble's application was accompanied by approximately $150-million of environmental baseline data -- one of the most extensive such databases ever submitted for a mining project in America.
In February, 2019, the Corps issued the draft EIS for the Pebble project -- the first time a truly objective, expert analysis of Pebble's potential environmental impacts has been published in the more than 10 years that debate about the project has raged. The company believes the draft EIS makes clear that the proposed mine will not harm Bristol Bay fisheries.
In November, 2018, and May, 2019, PLP announced right-of-way agreements with two Alaska native village corporations with extensive landholdings near Pebble, securing access to a transportation corridor to serve the proposed mine. The agreements make Alaska Peninsula Corp. and Iliamna Natives Ltd. partners in the Pebble enterprise and demonstrate local Alaska native support for the project.
In addition to overwhelmingly electing pro-development Governor Dunleavy in November, 2018, Alaska voters rejected an anti-development ballot measure promoted by its proponents as a means to stop Pebble by a margin of more than 2 to 1.
"The withdrawal of the proposed determination, the proposal for a smaller, environmentally optimized mine, the draft EIS conclusions regarding the Bristol Bay salmon fisher, the published schedule for the final EIS and record of decision, and the favourable political climate in Alaska together -- these factors give us a high level of confidence that we will get a permit," Mr. Collier said.
Mr. Collier predicted that opponents of the Pebble project will say withdrawal of the proposed determination means that Pebble will likely get a permit, but only because the political fix is in.
"My view is that they are only half right," he said. "They are right when they say Pebble believes it is likely to get a permit, but not because the fix is in -- rather, because our smaller, environmentally enhanced mine plan meets the high environmental standards and permitting requirement enforced in the [United States] and Alaska, and should receive a permit."
Mr. Collier further predicted that opponents will say, notwithstanding today's withdrawal of the proposed determination, that EPA can always initiate a new veto process next year. "Really? Why in the world would EPA withdraw a proposed veto today, if it intends to initiate a new one in less than a year?" he asked.
As proposed, the Pebble project is expected to generate tens of millions of dollars in state government revenues each year at a time when the State of Alaska is facing a fiscal crisis. It is also expected to support about 2,000 Alaska jobs, with average compensation for mine workers in excess of $100,000 per year.
About Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.
Northern Dynasty is a mineral exploration and development company based in Vancouver, Canada. Northern Dynasty's principal asset, owned through PLP, is a 100-per-cent interest in a contiguous block of 2,402 mineral claims in southwest Alaska, including the Pebble deposit. PLP is the proponent of the Pebble project, an initiative to develop one of the world's most important mineral resources.
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