Fishing for salmon at Bristol Bay. (Photo: Wild for Salmon)
Deal between EPA and Pebble Partnership worries salmon fishermen
Wednesday, May 17, 2017, 02:50 (GMT + 9)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has settled an ongoing lawsuit with the Pebble Limited Partnership, which wants to build a copper and gold mine in Alaska, potentially opening the door to developing the controversial project.
EPA stated the company can apply for a federal permit for its proposed project in the Bristol Bay watershed, which is fiercely opposed by environmentalists and many members of the Bristol Bay fishing fleet, who fear it could devastate a critical salmon fishery, KIRO7 reported.
Washington Democrat Senator Maria Cantwell has been fighting Pebble Mine for years and urged the EPA under President Obama to block the project, which it did in 2014.
Now that the project is potentially revived, Cantwell said at a news conference at Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal that "President Trump's administration is making an appalling mistake, siding with these Canadian miners over American fishing jobs."
The senator claims that the mine would harm water quality in a bay that produces 40 million salmon and supports 22,000 fishing jobs based in the Pacific Northwest.
On the other hand, Mike Heatwole of Pebble Partnership stressed that developers take environmental concerns seriously and plan to propose a smaller mine "with additional environmental safeguards."
Heatwole said Northern Dynasty Minerals -- the current owner of the questioned firm -- needs a financial partner to help foot the bill for seeking permits, which could cost tens of millions of dollars, and that the company hopes to file a permit application by the end of the year.
Given the controversy, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said that the agency is committed to allowing the process to move forward, but is not prejudging the outcome.
"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. We are committed to listening to all voices as this process unfolds," Pruitt stated.
The new approach promised by the Trump administration offers significant hope for the Pebble mine purveyors, but the process ahead will take years.
As part of the agreement, the EPA will be allowed to use "use its scientific assessment regarding the Bristol Bay Watershed without limitation," the agency said in a statement. It is not clear just how they will use it.
The EPA said it agreed to hold off on any follow-up to its proposed determination until four years after the settlement "or until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues its final environmental impact statement, whichever comes first."
For their part, leaders from Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., tribes and Native corporations groups all expressed a sense of exhaustion with the decade long fight, but pledged to continue their efforts to stop the mine.
Bristol Bay is the world’s largest producer of wild sockeye salmon and hosts other salmon species as well. It supports a commercial fishing-based economy valued at over USD 1.5 billion per year, and supports more than 14,000 full-time and part-time American jobs.
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