U.S. EPA paves way for stalled copper and gold mine in Alaska

Reuters News
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Posted: May 12, 2017 9:30 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. environmental regulators have cleared the path for a stalled copper and gold mine in Alaska by agreeing to settle current lawsuits and other issues over the project, which had drawn environmental concerns over its potential impact on the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a statement on Friday, said the settlement does not guarantee the proposed mining project in southwest Alaska's Bristol Bay region would ultimately win approval but that its review would now be carried out "in a fair, transparent, deliberate, and regular way."

The Pebble Limited Partnership mining company had filed a lawsuit against the EPA under the previous administration of Democratic president Barack Obama, which had sought to block it.

Backers of the project had been hopeful that Obama's Republican successor, Donald Trump would allow it to proceed. Shares of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd , which owns the massive Pebble deposit, have surged since Trump won the U.S. election back in November. Trump took office Jan. 20.

In February 2014, the EPA took the unusual action of blocking a mine before the project owner applied for a development permit.

Ronald Thiessen, chief executive officer and president of Northern Dynasty Minerals, said in December he expected the EPA to reverse course in the first quarter of 2017.

He said the company has held discussions with Trump's EPA transition team.

Opponents of the mine include environmental groups as well as many native residents who rely on the fish from the Bristol Bay watershed, which EPA has said supports the world's largest fishery of sockeye salmon. Many commercial fishermen and sport fishermen are oppose it.

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In the settlement reached on Thursday, Pebble Limited Partnership can now apply for a Clean Water Act permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA said in its statement released on Friday.

The EPA and Pebble Limited Partnership also agreed to ask the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska to dismiss related cases and lift a court-ordered preliminary injunction, according to the statement.

(Writing by Susan Heavey, Nicole Mordant and Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Bernard Orr)