EPA head raises bar on Pebble project
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said Friday he will not remove Obama-era restrictions placed on the Pebble gold and copper prospect in the Bristol Bay region, home to the vast sockeye fisheries.
Last year, Pruitt ordered a review of the restrictions while collecting more than one million comments from interested parties.
In a prepared statement, Pruitt said, “It is my judgment at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there.”
Pruitt said the mine could still ultimately be approved but, it will need to “clear a high bar because EPA believes the risk to Bristol Bay may be unacceptable.”
In 2014, Obama placed restrictions that mine proponents called a pre-emptive veto.
While EPA didn’t block the mine outright, it suggested limits on how much wetland and stream acreage could be destroyed by the development.
Pebble sued the EPA and, once Pruitt took over under the Trump administration, the two sides settled the suit, allowing Pebble to pursue its permit application.
Last month, the Pebble Limited Partnership applied for the permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Pebble CEO Tom Collier said in a statement that he believes the company can still demonstrate a responsibly constructed mine.
“We will also demonstrate that we can successfully operate a mine without compromising the fish and water resources around the project,” he said.
Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski praised Pruitt for a “balanced approach”.
“With the company now having filed its application, I expect that a fair, rigorous, and transparent process will soon begin so that Alaskans can understand the impacts and risks, as well as the potential benefits associated with this project,” she said.
During his State of the State, Gov. Bill Walker hailed several new mining prospects but omitted Pebble, a project he did not support.
“I have spoken to Administrator Pruitt about the Pebble Mine Project many times in the past year, and I have shared with him my belief that in the Bristol Bay region, we should prioritize the resource that has sustained generations and must continue to do so in perpetuity,” Walker said in prepared statement.
The decision received praise from business and tribal leaders late afternoon.
“Today’s decision by EPA is unlikely to end this debate,” said Jason Metrokin, Bristol Bay Native Corp. president, and Ralph Anderson, president of Bristol Bay Native Association, said in a joint statement.
“Nevertheless, the decision will mean that any mine plan PLP pursues will have to meet a high standard and address the ‘unacceptable adverse impacts’ identified in the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and the Proposed Determination,” they said.
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