Nez Perce Tribe Challenges Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Permit Issued to Perpetua Resources for the Stibnite Gold Mining Project

Lapwai, Idaho- On Friday, July 22, 2022 the Nez Perce Tribe (Tribe), together with the Idaho Conservation League and Save the South Fork Salmon, filed a petition with the Idaho Board of Environmental Quality challenging the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) June 17, 2022, issuance of an Air Quality Permit to Construct to Perpetua Resources Idaho, Inc. for its proposed gold mine, the Stibnite Gold Project (Mine). DEQ’s air permit violates the federal Clean Air Act and state laws aimed at safeguarding human health, safety and the environment. The air permit authorizes the company to emit large quantities of dust—including particulate matter and arsenic—generated by mining, hauling and processing ore, while failing to include basic monitoring and other safeguards to ensure air pollution levels remain safe.


Proposed on National Forest System and private lands in the headwaters of the East Fork South Fork Salmon River, the Mine would be within the Tribe’s aboriginal homeland where the Tribe has treaty-reserved rights and natural resources, cultural resources and sacred sites.  In 2018, the Tribe issued a resolution opposing the proposed mining project based on its affirmative threats to the Tribe’s rights and interests in the mine area and to the livelihood, health and socio-economic well-being of Tribal members, surrounding communities and future generations.


Clean, clear air is critical to ensuring the health and resiliency of the Tribe’s reserved rights and resources and Tribal members’ ongoing use of the proposed mine area. Air pollution reduces visibility, which impairs cultural and ceremonial practices for Tribal members. Air pollution also causes aggravated asthma, heart attacks and premature death. These impacts can be especially harmful to sensitive human populations such as asthmatics, children, the elderly, people with diabetes and people with heart or lung disease. Additionally, air pollution causes damage to culturally important plants, sensitive forests and fish habitat, acidification of lakes and streams, and the depletion of soil nutrients; especially for at-risk ecosystems. 


The Tribe participated extensively in DEQ’s two-year permit review process, submitting numerous written comments to the state agency.  The limited changes DEQ made to the air permit in response to these and other comments failed to address, however, most of the concerns the Tribe and others raised about the permit’s human health, environmental and legal flaws. DEQ’s changes also failed to ensure that the air permit meets federal Clean Air Act and state air quality requirements to protect public health and the environment. 


“We are deeply concerned that DEQ’s air permit issued to Perpetua fails to protect the Nez Perce Tribe, local communities and environment from harmful air pollution resulting from the proposed Stibnite Gold Project,” stated Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Samuel N. Penney.  “Clean air is critical to protecting our Tribal members’ ability to safely access and use the area for treaty-reserved, cultural, spiritual and ceremonial purposes and for protecting the resilience of our treaty-reserved resources throughout our aboriginal homeland.  DEQ’s permit to Perpetua Resources violates the federal and state laws and, therefore, must be vacated and withdrawn.”


The Nez Perce Tribe is represented by Advocates for the West in this administrative challenge.