EPA starts process that could restrict Pebble Mine

EPA head, Gina McCarthy hears testimony from Dillingham residents regarding the Pebble Mine project. (Photo by Misty Nielsen)

EPA head, Gina McCarthy hears testimony from Dillingham residents regarding the Pebble Mine project during a visit last year. (Photo by Misty Nielsen)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking the first steps toward possibly restricting or even prohibiting development of a massive gold-and-copper prospect near the headwaters of a world-premiere sockeye salmon fishery in Southwest Alaska.

The federal agency will ask the state and those behind the proposed Pebble Mine to make their case for the project.

Dennis McLerran, EPA Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10, sent letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Alaska, and the Pebble Partnership initiating action under EPA’s Clean Water Act Section 404(c) authorities, according to the press release.

An EPA report, released in January, found large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed posed significant risk to salmon.

The action being announced Friday is what Pebble supporters have feared. Mine opponents have urged EPA to take steps to protect the region.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says her agency is exercising its authority to ensure protection of the fishery from risks it faces “from what could be one of the largest open pit mines on earth.”

“Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries. It’s why EPA is taking this step forward in our effort to ensure protection for the world’s most productive salmon fishery from the risks it faces from what could be one of the largest open pit mines on earth. This process is not something the Agency does very often, but Bristol Bay is an extraordinary and unique resource.”

This is an ongoing story and will be updated.