EPA breathes new life into controversial Alaska mining project

FILE PHOTO: An empty podium awaits the arrival of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to address staff at EPA headquarters in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ting Shen

(Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday it would reconsider a 2014 decision that had stopped development of Alaska’s Pebble Mine, the world’s biggest undeveloped copper and gold project.

The move restarts a review that had been put on hold since early 2018, and comes as the Trump administration works to reduce regulation over extractive industries and boost domestic development of minerals, especially those used in electric vehicles.

EPA General Counsel Matthew Leopold signed a memo on Tuesday directing staff to reconsider a decision five years ago under President Barack Obama that restricted the mine’s disposal plans under the auspices of the Clean Water Act.

Shares of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd, the project operator, jumped 28% to close at 78 cents Canadian in Toronto.

“Today’s step is a move toward good government decision making, which we owe under the law to both the public and project proponents,” Leopold said in a statement.

The review was paused in January 2018 for further environmental studies, the EPA said at the time.

The Pebble Mine would, if brought online, produce 70 million tons of gold, molybdenum and copper ore a year and create a pit 1,970 feet (600 meters) deep. A new road, pipeline and power plant would be built, according to the mine plan.

The site is near Lake Iliamna in southwestern Alaska between the headwaters of two rivers that drain into Bristol Bay.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers had last February released a draft environmental impact statement on the project, which did not recommend any action pending a final environmental impact statement next year. A decision on a construction permit is expected in mid-2020.

Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Richard Chang

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