WASHINGTON ― The Trump administration announced Friday it had reached a legal settlement with a mining firm to pursue the construction of a proposed gold, copper and molybdenum mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed.
President Barack Obama in 2014 blocked construction of the mine, which led to an ongoing legal dispute between the Environmental Protection Agency and developer Pebble Limited Partnership. The settlement clears the way for the company to apply for a federal permit to build the mine.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said the agency is withdrawing its rejection in order to let the process move forward. Under Obama, Pebble had yet to submit an application, and an environmental assessment of the proposed project still needs to be completed. Opponents of the mine have argued it threatens the bay’s lucrative sockeye salmon fishery and outdoor recreation jobs.
“We are committed to due process and the rule of law, and regulations that are ‘regular’,” Pruitt said. “We understand how much the community cares about this issue, with passionate advocates on all sides. 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.”
In return, Pebble has agreed to drop its lawsuits and fee requests against the EPA, the agency said. The company also agreed not to file new Freedom of Information Act requests with the EPA.
Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., which owns Pebble Limited, has 30 months to file a permit application.
“From the outset of this unfortunate saga, we’ve asked for nothing more than fairness and due process under the law ― the right to propose a development plan for Pebble and have it assessed against the robust environmental regulations and rigorous permitting requirements enforced in Alaska and the United States,” Ron Thiessen, CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals, said in a statement.
Tom Collier, CEO of Pebble Partnership, said it would seek a smaller project than originally planned.
“Not only will we be rolling out a project that is smaller, with demonstrable environmental protections, we will also be announcing a number of new initiatives to ensure our project is more responsive to the priorities and concerns of Alaskans,” Collier said.
Jason Metrokin, CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corporation, said EPA’s decision is “far from the end of the story.”
“BBNC is very disappointed the EPA and the Trump Administration have decided to withdraw the agency’s prior actions that sought to protect Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble mine,” Metrokin said in a statement. “Pebble mine will risk thousands of long-held American jobs and Bristol Bay’s sustainable wild salmon fishery for the benefit of a foreign mining company.”
“There will be a formal process before EPA can unwind its proposal and BBNC and the people of Bristol Bay will make our voices heard during this process,” Metrokin added.
Hours before the settlement was reached, Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (D) expressed frustration that an agreement appeared to be in the works.
“The people of the Bristol Bay region don’t need this kind of stress hanging over our heads once again and continuing on year after year,” Edgmon said, the Alaska Dispatch News reports.
CORRECTION: This article previously misstated that the application deadline for filing for a permit is 30 days; it is 30 months.