Pebble, State of Alaska, Back in Court Regarding Mine Defense

A map of the proposed Pebble Mine site. Image: National Parks Conservation Association.

Two separate actions filed March 15 by Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM) in federal district court in Alaska are challenging the federal government’s efforts to prevent the Vancouver, British Columbia mining firm from building a copper, gold and molybdenum mine in Southwest Alaska.

The litigation came on the heels of the state of Alaska’s lawsuit, filed March 14 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, asking for more than $700 billion in damages for state lands that the state contends were confiscated.

The state alleges in its lawsuit that the federal government tied up 309 square miles of state land in Bristol Bay with new regulations, breaking its contract with the state in violation of the Cook Inlet Land Exchange of 1975 and the Statehood Act of 1953.

NDM President and CEO Ron Thiessen said his company’s priority is to advance the district federal court complaint to remove a major impediment from securing the permit to build the proposed mine.

Thiessen said that if the Environmental Protection Agency continues to block the permitting process that Northern Dynasty would seek substantial compensation.

“Whatever authority the EPA may have under section 404(c), the  general provision in the Clean Water Act cannot authorize the EPA to take action to block the specific economic activity that was Congress’s express purpose for granting these lands to the state of Alaska under the Cook Inlet Land Exchange,” he said.

“We are filing litigation to fully contest the EPA’s unprecedented and unlawful actions against the Pebble Project,” John Shively, chief executive of the Pebble Limited Partnership, a wholly owned subsidiary of NDM, said. “Since our objections to the politically motivated actions by the EPA have long fallen on deaf ears, we have sued the agency in federal court in Alaska to have our issues fairly and objectively heard.”

NDM says it has spent at least $1 billion to date on the project.

The watershed supports the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon and also provides habitat for over two dozen other fish species, over 190 birds and dozens of mammals, whose diet includes fish sources from Bristol Bay and connected river systems. 

The EPA has said development of the mine would destroy over 2,000 acres of wetlands that are protected under the Clean Water Act.

Bristol Bay Native Corp. (BBNC) said it is disappointed in the legal challenges brought by Northern Dynasty and the state of Alaska to the EPA’s final determination for Bristol Bay, saying the EPA decision was grounded in science and supported by the majority of Alaskans.

BBNC President and CEO Jason Metrokin said it’s a mistake for NDM and the state to continue pursuit of what could be the largest open pit mine in North America near the headwaters of the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery.

“These fisheries have sustained our people for thousands of years and today support a commercial fishery that provides more than $2 billion in economic activity annually and supports over 15,000 jobs,” Metrokin said. “BBNC continues to maintain that Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place.”

United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB) also issued a statement, noting that the new litigation came just two months after the EPA’s action, and alleging that NDM and the Pebble Limited Partnership are companies with a proven history of manipulative politics and misrepresentations of the size and scope of the mine in proposals to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and statements to other stakeholders. 

Margaret Bauman can be reached at