The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision that revoked a 2007 mining permit issued for the Spruce Mine in West Virginia. The court’s failure to hear the case sets a dangerous precedent that may allow the EPA to preemptively kill future projects such as the proposed Pebble Mine project without formal justification. The refusal to rule on the EPA’s revocation of the Spruce Mine permit impliedly grants the EPA more control over the American economy and denies legal recourse.

The current state of the law in America is that for a mining operation to begin it must apply for a Section 404 permit as required under the Clean Water Act. Mining production cannot begin until the Section 404 permit is issued. The Section 404 permit process effectively gives the EPA ultimate veto authority over a proposed mining project. “Before developers can even begin mining, they must first identify economically viable resources…lease land from the government or private individuals, and then apply for drilling permits with a handful of different agencies.

The problem is that mining projects require years of preparation and millions of dollars of investment that could be wasted because the EPA can now kill such projects without any justification. The current state of the law will undoubtedly chill future investments thereby killing jobs and denying America the benefit of its domestic energy reserves. Based on the EPA’s unfounded and retroactive revocation of the Spruce Mine permit, it’s easy to predict the future for such projects such as Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska.

The Pebble Mine project is a proposed mining operation that is now in danger of being preemptively denied by the EPA. The most troubling aspect of the EPA’s treatment of the Pebble Mine project is that Pebble Mine has yet to formally apply for any construction permits. In an act of defiance to any logical or fair interpretation of the law, the EPA issued a watershed assessment of the region before any formal application for permits were made. Furthermore, the EPA’s watershed assessment of the region was based on inaccurate science and methodology, and was simply a calculated effort to kill the project without fair consideration. 

It is clear the EPA is acting at the behest of radical environmental organizations to squash the Pebble Mine project. What the EPA failed to take into consideration is that the “Pebble Partnership has invested over $150 million in developing a safe, environmentally responsible way to mine the enormous copper reserves in Southwest Alaska.” The EPA also failed to consider that the Pebble Mine would:

  • Create 16,175 high-paying jobs per year throughout construction process and an additional 14,715 high-paying jobs per year during production; and
  • Contribute $1.6 billion to our nation’s GDP per year during the construction process and an additional $2.4 per year afterwards.

The EPA’s preemptive efforts to kill the Pebble Mine project through its watershed assessment are made worse by the recent precedent set by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s denial of the Spruce Mine’s appeal of the EPA’s permit revocation means future projects could be killed by the EPA without proper justification. Essentially the Supreme Court is condoning the EPA’s abuse of the permitting process and offering little if any recourse for mining operations.

The EPA’s condoned abuse of the permitting process could allow the EPA to revoke the Pebble Mine permit at any time, irrespective of the project’s investments in safety, the thousands of potential jobs created and the billions in contributions to America’s GDP. The Supreme Court’s decision only reinforces an already growing view that the EPA is an agency “gunning for one industry” despite the obvious benefits that would be produced from projects such as the Pebble Mine. Thus the fate of projects such as Pebble Mine could be in the hands of an anti-mining EPA that can deny or revoke permits without any justification or legal recourse for mining operations.