In a surprise announcement today, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the proposed Pebble Mine may pose an “unacceptable” risk to Bristol Bay.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said the agency is suspending its effort to reverse an Obama-era proposal to put restrictions on the mine — a potential blow to the controversial project, which had been gaining momentum in recent months.
The decision isn’t final. EPA said Pebble Limited Partnership can still move forward with the permitting process for its gold and copper mine. Pebble submitted a permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in December, after the company reached a settlement with the Trump administration last spring.
But in a statement, Pruitt said the Bristol Bay fisheries deserve protection.
“It is my judgement at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there,” Pruitt said.
Pebble opponent Alannah Hurley of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay called the announcement “huge.”
“We are celebrating this decision in Bristol Bay today,” Hurley said. “This is confirmation that even the Pebble Mine is too toxic for the Trump administration.”
Governor Bill Walker also praised EPA’s decision, saying in a statement he’s conveyed to Pruitt his concerns about the mine “many times.”
Pebble spokesperson Mike Heatwole did not criticize Pruitt’s statement, saying only that EPA’s announcement doesn’t change the company’s plans to keep pushing ahead.
“The EPA confirmed that we have the right to participate in the normal, lawful permitting process under the Clean Water Act, and today’s news doesn’t change our approach,” Heatwole said.
EPA said it will continue gathering information on the mine’s potential impact on Bristol Bay, including more opportunity for public comment.
- Corri Feige is not new to the agency she will now lead — she was previously the head of DNR's Division of Oil and Gas under Gov. Bill Walker.
- British Columbia is taking steps to fully clean up the abandoned Tulsequah Chief Mine. The defunct Canadian mine upstream from the Taku River has been leaching acid for more than 60 years.
- An Anchorage Superior Court judge issued a final order on the lawsuit, which was filed in August by the ACLU of Alaska, the group Dunleavy for Alaska and Palmer resident Eric Siebels.
- The Urban Indian Health Institute conducted the report over the past year amid concern that Native American and Alaska Native women are vanishing in high numbers, despite a lack of government data to identify the full scope of the problem.