Pebble Mine waits, frustration grows

Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively has maintained for years that his company will submit its application soon.

“Well, we’re still working on that,” he said by phone Tuesday morning. “I do really think that there’s a better than even chance that we will submit our permit application later this year.”

The EPA should release its final watershed assessment for the mine site in the next couple of months. Shively and the mine’s backers fear the EPA could veto the mine outright – before the company submits its permit application – because of harmful affects to salmon habitat.

If it does not, the company could try to win approval with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Senator Mark Begich, like the entire Alaska delegation, said the company should have a chance to apply for a permit. The federal government could rule out the mine then, but he said the EPA should not use its authority to prohibit the permit process.

Still, he said the Pebble Partnership has gained a competitive advantage by waiting so long.

“What I always hear from the industry is ‘We just need to know what the agencies are going to require us to do. Ok? Well in Pebble’s case, you’re going to know before you pull a permit,” he said last week. “That’s not a bad position if you’re a mining company. Now you have an option to say: ‘now I know what they’re going to require me to do.’ You can say, does this meet our economic ability?’”

The Pebble Mine could be one of the world’s largest. Developers hope to extract gold, copper and molybdenum. The Pebble Partnership touts the copper for future renewable energy projects.

But opponents of the mine, including many local tribal governments and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, worry it will destroy the salmon habitat crucial to both commercial and subsistence fishing.

They petitioned the EPA to veto the mine using its so called 404c authority. Its draft watershed assessment said the mine would destroy dozens of miles of streams.

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