News Feature | March 19, 2014

EPA May Veto Project Based On Rarely-Used Law

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


In a potentially unprecedented move, the EPA is invoking a rarely-used section of the Clean Water Act to shut down the proposed construction of a mine in Alaska that the agency sees as an environmental threat.

Officials decided to preemptively block the construction of a proposed copper-gold site, known as Pebble Mine, in order to protect fisheries in Bristol Bay, Morris News Service reported

"EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a formal statement the agency was initiating action to invoke its authority to veto the proposed Iliamna-area mine under the seldom-used Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act," the report said. 

What is Section 404?

This part of the act grants the EPA the authority to issue permits "for the discharge of dredged or fill material into the navigable waters at specified disposal sites," according to the Act. Subsection(c) allows the agency to veto new sites. 

"The agency has issued 13 final veto determinations nationwide since the act became law in 1972. All of the prior veto actions came after a Section 404 permit application had been submitted, meaning Pebble would be the first case in which use of the veto power occurred without a permit application," the Morris News report said. 

The EPA explained its decision: “Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble mine would likely have significant and irreversible impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries,” McCarthy said in an EPA release, published by Morris News.

The developments "mark a major win for native Alaskan tribes, commercial fishing operations and environmentalists who have been seeking to kill the project," the Washington Post reported

The backdrop is this: "A Canadian-based firm, Northern Dynasty Minerals, is trying to start construction on the Pebble Mine project, which it predicts will create 1,000 direct jobs and generate up to $180 million in state revenue. It would also result in dumping waste into the surrounding Bristol Bay watershed," the report said. 

Tom Collier, chief executive of the Pebble Limited Partnership, promised to fight the agency's veto effort. 

"I think we'll drive a stake through this notion that there ought to either be a veto or restrictions placed on this project before we even file our application for a permit," Collier said in the Los Angeles Times. "We don't think they have the authority to do a veto before a permit has been filed."

Image credit: "Copper Mine," benketaro © 2005, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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