While construction of the Keystone XL pipeline continues to hang in limbo — held up chiefly by President Obama's obeisance to Big Green environmentalist demands — a new battle is heating up in Alaska. The Environmental Protection Agency is going to extraordinary lengths to stop a mining project in Bristol Bay, Alaska, before it's even underway, denying the region 15,000 new jobs and $2 billion in added tax revenue.
In 2001, the Pebble Mine Partnership (PMP) acquired a copper and gold mine in southwest Alaska. At the time, the mine was estimated to be relatively small, but in 2005, after additional mineral exploration, it was discovered that the mine potentially contained as much as 11 billion tons of minerals. Being a mine and because it's near the world's largest sockeye salmon run, the EPA, Earthworks, Natural Resources Defense Council and other Big Green outfits large and small are trying to pull the bedrock out from underneath the project.
In the process, EPA is setting a dangerous new precedent by using watershed assessments before the agency's environmental impact study and before permits are issued. Essentially, EPA created a fantasy mine, then accepted its alleged environmental impacts as authoritative. Without ever looking at the official mine plans, EPA made up its own and declared it too dangerous. This fairy-tale "science" was decimated by 12 scientists during a peer-review session, according to PMP. The EPA has since contracted for a second watershed assessment using, of all things, the actual plans for the mine, but still reached the same conclusion. Apparently to buy itself some regulatory insurance, the EPA is also cooking up two additional mine scenarios for use in its regulatory process, so who knows how the deck will be stacked.
The whole point of these watershed assessments appears to be to provide the EPA with a little-used veto power granted to it by the Clean Water Act. Since 1972, the EPA has only used that veto power 12 times, but if the agency succeeds in using it to bury Pebble Mine, it would establish a hugely important new regulatory precedent. "The real danger that we've all got is, if they can figure out how to get this done with Pebble, they can get this done in other areas," Ross Eisenberg, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, told The Hill. "There are lots of groups that don't like mining. This is one way to get the mining to stop."
Using the watershed assessment skirts the regular permitting process Congress established with the CWA. What the PMP officials are asking is that EPA follow the process defined by the law. As with the Keystone pipeline, Big Green environmental groups fighting the mine will deny Alaskans thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue. If they succeed in crushing Pebble Mine before the permitting process is even started, there will be no end of job-rich projects across America that will never even be proposed.