EPA to withdraw restrictions on Northern Dynasty’s Pebble mine

The area where Pebble mine would be built, 320 km southwest of Anchorage, within the Bristol Bay watershed | Photo: courtesy of Northern Dynasty Minerals

A decision by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could pave the way for Northern Dynasty Minerals’ (TSX:NDM) vast but stalled Pebble copper-gold-silver project in Alaska

The EPA proposed late Tuesday (July 11) revoking a 2014 ruling that bans large-scale mining in the area over the potential risks to one of the planet's greatest wild salmon fisheries.

The federal agency noted it would accept public comments on the proposal for the next 90 days before making a final decision.

The move follows a key settlement reached in May between the EPA and Northern Dynasty that ended a long-dragged dispute over the agency’s decision to block construction of the Pebble mine.

It also comes exactly three months after Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) granted Northern Dynasty’s subsidiary — Pebble Limited Partnership — a long-awaited land-use permit.

Investors reacted positively to the news, pushing the stock up 2.67% to $1.92 in Toronto at 10:54 a.m. local time. But opponents to the project were not that thrilled.

“The facts haven’t changed. The science hasn’t changed. The opposition hasn’t changed,” wrote Taryn Kiekow Heimer, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has opposed the project for years. “The fact that it’s the wrong mine in the wrong place hasn’t changed. But the politics have changed.”

“Instead of putting America first, it puts us dead last — behind the interests of a foreign mining company,” she argues.

For Nelli Williams, director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska program, EPA’s proposed withdrawal just shows that the agency “is extremely out of touch with Alaskans and hunters and anglers across the country,” she said in a statement.

"We believe the project design we are preparing to advance into permitting, as well as the social and stakeholder programs and commitments we are building around our project, will address many of the priorities and concerns we have heard from stakeholders in Alaska," Northern Dynasty President and chief executive, Ron Thiessen, said in a statement.

The rule that may be revoked is the Clean Water Act Section 404(c), invoked by Barack Obama’s EPA in 2014. Its application to the project could have prevented the company from applying to the any permits. But the agency’s “preventive” veto on Pebble was blocked in November that year following lawsuits and objections from groups such as the National Mining Association and a number of congressional Republicans.

According to Northern Dynasty, the Pebble deposit is "one of the greatest stores of mineral wealth" ever discovered. The current resource estimate includes 6.44 billion tonnes in the measured and indicated categories containing 57 billion pounds of copper, 70 million ounces of gold, 3.4 billion pounds of molybdenum and 344 million ounces silver.

The asset holds 4.46 billion tonnes in the inferred category, containing 24.5 billion pounds of copper, 37 million ounces gold, 2.2 billion ounces of molybdenum and 170 million ounces silver. Quantities of palladium and rhenium also occur in the deposit.