Environmental Protection Agency decision now has contested Alaska mine developers cheering

Workers with the Pebble Mine project test drill in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, near the village of Iliamma, in July 2007. (Al Grillo/AP)
Pebble Limited Partnership, the company trying to build a mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska, is celebrating an announcement Tuesday from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA has thrown out a proposal launched during the Obama administration that some called a “preemptive” veto of the mine. It’s a procedural decision that has bad implications for mine opponents.

The EPA said the proposal for a “preemptive” veto is outdated, because Pebble has since applied for permits.

Sockeye salmon are seen in Bristol Bay, Alaska, in an undated handout picture provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (Environmental Protection Agency/Handout via Reuters)

And the EPA has a role in reviewing those projects. In early July, to the delight of Bristol Bay fishermen, the EPA found fault with the environmental reports on the project. The agency said the reports may be understating the harm the mine poses to fish and fish habitat. Technically, the EPA still retains the right to veto the permits, if its concerns aren’t satisfied.

But Bristol Bay fisherman Robin Samuelsen said he now doubts the EPA will ultimately block the mine.

Pebble CEO Tom Collier. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

“Yes, we’re very disappointed,” he said by phone from Dillingham. “We thought it’d be based on best science. But now it’s being based on politics.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy asked President Trump to help Pebble, Samuelsen said, and now EPA officials are under pressure to green-light the mine.

“Those that don’t like it are going to get fired,” Samuelsen said. “And he has no problems firing people.”

Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow confirmed the governor raised the issue of the “preemptive” veto with Trump.

Pebble CEO Tom Collier thanked Dunleavy for encouraging the EPA to withdraw the proposal. In a written statement, Collier also said the EPA decision bodes well for Pebble’s permit, reasoning that the EPA would not have withdrawn its proposed veto if it intends to issue one later.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada announces $2M for research into carbon neutral mining in the Northwest Territories, CBC News

Finland: Gold mine in southern Finland to shut down after court denies appeal, Yle News

Norway: Minister downplays environmental impact of planned mine in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Business is good for Russian nickel giant Nornickel, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Iron mine in northern Sweden to restart production, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Environmental Protection Agency criticism of projected Pebble Mine ‘substantial’, says Alaska’s senator Murkowski, Alaska Public Media

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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