A Native corporation representing thousands of shareholders in the Bristol Bay region has joined six tribes and some fishing groups in asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency to deploy a rarely used provision of federal law to stop the Pebble copper and gold project.
The Bristol Bay Native Corp. said Thursday that it has sent a letter to the EPA asking the agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to prohibit the discharge of dredged or fill material from Pebble if the massive ore deposit worth billions of dollars is developed into a mine.
The company requested a prohibition of such discharges on state land at the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers, where the Pebble mine claims are located.
The companies advancing Pebble need permission to discharge dredged materials -- rock waste, especially -- to build and operate a mine.
Recently, Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young introduced a bill that would strip the EPA of its authority to put a place off-limits to the disposal of dredge and fill material.
A spokesman for the Pebble Partnership, the joint venture of mining companies studying and exploring the deposit north of Iliamna, declined to speculate about the impact on Pebble if the EPA agrees to prohibit the discharges.
His spokeswoman told the Associated Press that Young wasn't targeting Pebble, though the timing of his legislation was just a few days after tribal leaders discussed their request late last month with the EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, in Dillingham.
The EPA said last week it is reviewing the requests it has received from the tribes and fishermen. But agency officials stressed that they have used this authority rarely: only 12 times since the Clean Water Act passed in 1972.
BBNC Chief Executive Jason Metrokin said Thursday that the corporation has been working on this letter for "probably the bulk of the summer."
Metrokin said the company wanted to make sure its proposal wouldn't restrict any development besides Pebble, including potential projects on the company's own land.
"BBNC has taken this action because it believes the proposed Pebble mine presents unacceptable risks to BBNC resources and its shareholders' way of life," according to a statement from the Native corporation Thursday.
BBNC has 8,600 Eskimo, Aleut and Athabascan shareholders with ties to the Bristol Bay region.
Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.