Alaska asks US Supreme Court to strike down the rejection of a proposed copper, gold mine

Jul 27, 2023, 10:24 AM | Updated: 10:42 am

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The state of Alaska wants the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a federal agency’s rejection of a proposed copper and gold mine in southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay region.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in January blocked the proposed Pebble Mine, citing concerns with potential impacts on a rich aquatic ecosystem that supports the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. It was the 14th time in the roughly 50-year history of the federal Clean Water Act that the EPA flexed its powers to bar or restrict activities over their potential impacts on waters, including fisheries.

Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor in a statement Wednesday said having a case heard directly by the Supreme Court rather than first in the lower courts is “an extraordinary ask, but it’s appropriate given the extraordinary decision being challenged.”

“The EPA’s order strikes at the heart of Alaska’s sovereignty, depriving the State of its power to regulate its lands and waters,” according to the court filing.

An EPA spokesperson said the agency was reviewing Wednesday’s filing, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The EPA has said its decision would prohibit certain waters from being used as disposal sites for the discharge of material for the construction and operation of the proposed Pebble project. The decision also would prohibit future proposals to build or operate a mine to develop the deposit that would result in the same or greater level of impacts.

Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. owns the Pebble Limited Partnership, which is pursuing the mine. Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ron Thiessen in a statement said the company plans to support the state in its legal action and left open the possibility of pursuing separate litigation.

In cases where states sue the federal government, they can bring complaints directly to the court, though only a few such cases are heard annually.

A Virginia-based law firm known for championing conservative causes, Consovoy McCarthy, is representing the state in the lawsuit as Supreme Court counsel. The firm previously contracted with the state in a dispute with public employee unions.

Alaska Native tribes and environmental groups have long pushed for the rejection of the mine.

Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, called the state’s filing a “slap in the face to Bristol Bay” and said tribes “will use every tool at our disposal to protect our waters, our salmon, and our people.”

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Alaska asks US Supreme Court to strike down the rejection of a proposed copper, gold mine