Constantine Metal Resource Ltd., Alyu Mining Co. Inc., and Haines Mining & Exploration Inc. fought back last Thursday against the Chilkat Indian Village and Southeast Alaska Conservation Council’s claims that the BLM violated NEPA when it issued Constantine a permit for mineral exploration in Alaska. The environmental and tribal groups believe that the permit allows for “mineral exploration” and “mine development,” but the mining companies believe this is an improper conflation of two separate permits, and that mining rights are not automatically triggered by the right to exploration.

Despite backlash from environmental interests, in August 2016 the BLM found that Constantine’s proposed exploration activities would not have a significant effect on the environment. At the time, BLM declined to consider the effects that a future mine development in that area might have. The tribe and environmental groups believe the potential for future mine development should have been considered concurrently, because if an exploration leads to a discovery of minerals, it may be too late for the BLM to step in. However, the mining companies reiterated that the BLM does not have the authority to withdraw lands from mining availability; only Congress and the Secretary of the Interior have that authority.

Further, if the mining companies did propose a mine, at that point it would then have to meet the standards laid out by environmental laws and permitting requirements. No environmental protection arguments can properly be raised when the “hypothetical mine” does not yet exist, assert the mining companies.

The case is Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan, et al. v. Bureau of Land Management, et al., case no. 3:17-cv-00253 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska.