Biden Administration, Settling a Long Fight, Plans to Block a Mine in Alaska

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In 2020, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for the project that was seen as critical for it to proceed.

The company seeking to build the mine, the Pebble Limited Partnership, appealed that decision and is also expected to challenge the legality of the Biden administration’s new plan to protect Bristol Bay.

The company wants to dig an open-pit mine more than a mile square and one-third of a mile deep where it would process tens of millions of tons of rock a year to extract metals estimated to be worth at least $300 billion. The project would include the construction of a 270-megawatt power plant and 165-mile natural-gas pipeline, as well as an 82-mile road and large dammed ponds for the tailings, some of them toxic. It would also require dredging a port at Iliamna Bay.

Both federal and state agencies found that the proposed Pebble Mine, which would be located in two watersheds that feed fish-spawning rivers, would cause permanent damage, harming the breeding grounds for salmon that are the basis for a sport fishing industry and a large commercial fishery in Bristol Bay. Salmon are also an important part of the diet of Alaska Natives who live in small villages across the region. Scientists say the mine would destroy more than 130 miles of streams, 2,800 acres of wetlands and 130 acres of open water.

Last fall, as the Environmental Protection Agency indicated that it intended to block the project, a spokesman for Pebble Mine Partnership said that doing so could have the unintended consequence of hampering the Biden administration’s goals to combat climate change, by restricting domestic extraction of a crucial mineral used in making batteries for electric vehicles and other low-carbon technologies.

“As the Biden Administration seeks lower carbon emissions for energy production, they should recognize that such change will require significantly more mineral production — notably copper,” said Mike Heatwole, the spokesman, in a statement. “The Pebble Project remains an important domestic source for the minerals necessary for the administration to reach its green energy goals.”

The Biden administration contends that there is significant economic value in conserving Bristol Bay. The E.P.A. found that the Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery generated $2 billion in economic activity in 2019 and that the economic activity generated by the fishery created 15,000 jobs.

Agency officials said they would accept public comments on the proposal until July 5 before publishing a final legal determination.

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