Northern Dynasty Minerals: Permitting for Southwest Alaska's Pebble Project remains on track

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview with Reuters journalists in Washington US

The decision centers around the controversial Pebble Mine project, an open pit copper and gold mine proposed for the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

"We expect the permitting process for Pebble to advance expeditiously over the next few years, and that a draft and final (Environmental Impact Statement) will be completed upon which final permitting decisions for the Pebble Project will be made", Northern Dynasty Chief Executive Officer Ron Thiessen said.

Pruitt said in the statement that after reviewing comments, "It is my judgment at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there". We will also demonstrate that we can successfully operate a mine without compromising the fish and water resources around the project.

But EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed course late Friday, saying "Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection".

The proposed protections were the result of a years long scientific study by the EPA, which concluded in 2014 that the proposed copper and gold Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska would cause "significant and irreversible harm" to the nearby watershed. The report determined that mining on the scale of the proposed Pebble Mine would have "unacceptable adverse effects" on the watershed.

Northern Dynasty Minerals said in a statement the permitting process for the mine being overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would continue.

In a surprise reversal, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it is withdrawing its plan to suspend environmental protections for an area of Alaska that is home to the world's most valuable wild salmon fishery.

Alannah Hurley with United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a group opposing the mine, has said members of the tribes she represents are willing to lie down in front of bulldozers to protect the waters.

The governor told Alaska Public Media in October that he had not been convinced Pebble should move forward and the company had a high bar to clear to had taken appropriate steps to prevent potential damage to the fish and wildlife habitat - a stance Pebble deemed appropriate at that time. Northern Dynasty CEO Ronald Thiessen, said a year ago the Pebble project's measured and inferred resources of copper, gold, molybdenum, and silver makes it one of the largest undeveloped mineral prospects in the world. In addition, the region's indigenous communities rely on salmon for sustenance. The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which opposes the mine, says the fishery produces $1.5 billion in economic activity each year. The company expressed confidence in its ability to construct and operate a mine that meets required environmental standards. It culminated in a 2014 decision by the EPA to propose restrictions employing Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, restrictions that would effectively prohibit the project.

EPA today said Pruitt was "following through on his promise to restore the rule of law" and noted the Army Corps of Engineers is already reviewing the Pebble project.

The mining company says its application for a permit remains on track. "This is a landmark decision for Bristol Bay that heartens our resolve to bring this fight to a close and ensure Bristol Bay is protected for generations to come", he said. Northern Dynasty's principal asset, owned through its wholly-owned Alaska-based U.S. subsidiary Pebble Limited Partnership and other wholly-owned subsidiaries, is a 100% interest in a contiguous block of 2,402 mineral claims in southwest Alaska, including the Pebble deposit.

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