Alaska gears up for new round of Pebble Mine fight

Published on
October 12, 2017

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers removing limitations against a proposed mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, opponents of the measure are making their stances known.

With less than a week before the EPA’s 17 October deadline for public comment, more than 40 Democratic House and Senate members sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to maintain Clean Water Act restrictions against the proposed copper and gold mine in the southeastern part of the state. In addition, a group of business leaders formed a coalition that pledges to defend the fishing industry it says would be harmed by the mine.

“Bristol Bay’s sustainable salmon resource is the foundation of our region’s economy, food security, and culture,” said Norm Van Vactor, president of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation in a statement released by Businesses for Bristol Bay. “The proposed Pebble Mine threatens all of this and would only provide a limited number of jobs for a limited number of years.  It’s not worth the risk to the people, fishermen, and businesses of Bristol Bay.  Our region has said it before and we’ll keep saying it – the Pebble Mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place."

In July 2014, the Obama administration imposed regulations against the proposed mining project. Developers filed suit in response. Now, with a new administration in place, the EPA announced it is reconsidering the matter after the two sides announced a settlement agreement on 11 May. 

 “The agreement will not guarantee or prejudge a particular outcome, but will provide Pebble a fair process for their permit application and help steer EPA away from costly and time-consuming litigation,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said. “We are committed to listening to all voices as this process unfolds.”

While developers tout the mine’s economic impact and say it would cover about one percent of the bay region’s watershed area, opponents point to the USD 1.5 billion (EUR 1.3 billion) economic impact and the 20,000 jobs created by the fishing industry there. The region is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and one of the largest Chinook fisheries.

“The Pebble Mine directly threatens our maritime economy and thousands of American jobs that rely on this world class fishery,” wrote the Democratic lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California). “We ask you to listen to America’s fishermen and businesses and reverse EPA’s decision to undo strong protections and clean water safeguards in Bristol Bay.”

The last of two public hearings in Alaska is scheduled for today. After the public comment ends, the EPA will decide whether to rescind the regulations.

Tom Collier, CEO for the Pebble Partnership, has stated he believes the EPA will overturn the previous decision.

“We are very pleased with this positive step from the EPA in its return to fair and normal process for making regulatory decisions,” Collier said in July statement. 

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