President Donald Trump recently took to his Twitter page to announce that there would be “no politics” involved in the review process for the Pebble Mine. But is that true? Today’s blog post will take a look at the Clean Water Act’s Section 404 permit process for the mine, and how the agencies and political interests have reacted to the project. We will also explain how hiring an environmental law firm for help with permits can benefit your project.
The Pebble Mine Project
Pebble Mine is seeking to extract gold and copper in southwest Alaska, within the Bristol Bay watershed. The proposed site for the mine would impact wetlands and streams that feed into Bristol Bay, the home of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. Environmental law firms and other interested parties have been following the process closely, as many consider the potential impacts to be substantial. The project developer seeks a Section 404 permit under the Clean Water Act, which regulates discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States, in order to construct the mine.
Federal Regulatory Requirements
- Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) – The EPA is in charge of reviewing and commenting on Section 404 Permits. It also develops the policy and environmental permit criteria used by the Army Corps of Engineers for issuing these permits. It additionally has some veto powers associated with these permits.
- Army Corps of Engineers (“the Corps”) – The Corps is in charge of issuing the Section 404 permits for the development and dredging of wetlands. Essentially, “no discharge of dredged or fill material may be permitted if: (1) a practicable alternative exists that is less damaging to the aquatic environment or (2) the nation’s waters would be significantly degraded[;]” thus the impacts of a project must be avoided, minimized, or compensated for.
Actions Taken by the EPA and the Corps and Politics at Play
The EPA, under President Obama’s administration, proposed a preemptive veto for the Section 404 permit, but reversed course under the Trump Administration last year. However, the Corps gave the developers, Pebble Limited Partnership, 90 days to propose additional mitigation to offset the environmental impacts of the project last month. This is because the current proposal “cannot be permitted.” The Corps determined that the current proposal “would likely result in significant degradation of the environment and would likely result in significant adverse effects on the aquatic system or human environment.” Now, the Corps is requiring the developer to improve almost 3,000 acres of wetlands, streams, and open water as part of wetlands mitigation, among other requirements. The determination came after a number of leading conservatives in government spoke out in opposition to the project, with more later agreeing with the Corps’ statement.
The State of Alaska also has the ability to weigh in on the project. The Corps requested a certificate of reasonable assurance from the State. The Certificate determines whether the mine will meet the requirements of the state’s water quality laws. The Corps cannot issue the permit without the State’s certificate. The Commissioner of the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, however, is the former government relations manager of Anglo-American, who lobbied on behalf of the Pebble Mine at the time.
How an Environmental Law Firm Helps with Permitting
In any permitting process, politics inevitably play a part in whether the permits are issued . Hiring an environmental law firm with attorneys skilled at applying the project’s facts to the permitting requirements and having developed relationships with key agencies can play a major role in the permitting process. Desautel Law’s vast experience with various state and federal environmental permitting agencies provides our clients with both. If you are looking an environmental law firm’s help in seeking permit approvals, contact Desautel Law today. We are available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 401.477.0023.