State files $700 billion claim over EPA blockage of Pebble Mine

The federal government should pay Alaska more than $700 billion in compensation for the 2023 Environmental Protection Agency action that blocked development of the massive and controversial Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration claims in a lawsuit filed in a federal court.

The lawsuit, filed March 14 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in the District of Columbia, is part of a flurry of legal actions by the state and the mine’s would-be developer that seek to revive the massive copper and gold project in a salmon-rich region.

The state and company legal actions follow an unsuccessful attempt by the Dunleavy administration to have the matter decided directly by the U.S. Supreme Court. In an unusual legal maneuver, the Dunleavy administration last July petitioned the Supreme Court to rule on the matter without having lower courts weigh in. The Supreme Court in January declined to take on the case.

In its complaint filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the state cited an estimate for 100 years of production to support the $700 billion figure. It said Alaska had been depending on Pebble development for its economic future.

Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals and the Pebble Limited Partnership, of which Northern Dynasty is the sole owner, filed parallel lawsuits with the same aims.

One case, filed on March 14 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seeks compensation for loss of opportunity to develop Pebble. Unlike the state case, it does not seek a specific dollar amount, but it says the Pebble Limited Partnership has spent over $1 billion to date to acquire the property and pursue the mine’s development.

The second, filed March 15 in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, seeks to overturn the EPA’s January 2023 decision to invoke a rarely used Clean Water Act provision to bar permitting of the Pebble project.

The state anticipates filing its own challenge to the EPA action in U.S. District Court, the Department of Law said in a statement.

The state and company legal moves drew rebukes from Pebble opponents, who have characterized the mine project as a dire threat to the Bristol Bay habitat on which major commercial, sport and subsistence salmon harvests depend.

“The state’s legal filing is unhinged, sounding more like conspiratorial rantings from some dark corner of the internet than a legitimate legal argument,” Tim Bristol, executive director of the advocacy group SalmonState, said in an emailed statement.

“This is political posturing at its worst and pure legal fantasy. Reality is Bristol Bay’s wild salmon runs, the people who depend on them, and the jobs and income they provide,” Bristol said.

Jason Metrokin, president of the Bristol Bay Native Corp., also criticized the legal actions. In a statement, he said the EPA’s actions “are grounded in science and are supported by a majority of Alaskans.”

“It is simply a mistake for (Northern Dynasty Minerals) and the state of Alaska to continue to pursue the development of what could be North America’s largest open pit mine near the headwaters of Bristol Bay’s incredible salmon fisheries,” Metrokin said.

In a separate statement, Delores Larson, interim director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, predicted that the new legal attempts would fail. “We are confident the courts will uphold the EPA’s protections and reject Pebble’s attempts to revive a mining project that Alaskans do not support and the science has shown time and time again would be devastating for the waters that support salmon habitat and our way of life.”

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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