Democrats in Congress join fight against Pebble Mine

Pebble says it might use a ferry to haul ore across Iliamna Lake, rather than construct roads from the mine to a new port in Cook Inlet. (Image: Pebble Partnership)

Opponents of the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska are getting a boost from Democrats in Congress.

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42 members of the U.S. House and Senate wrote President Trump Wednesday and asked him to overrule EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. This spring, Pruitt announced plans to get rid of special Clean Water Act protections his predecessor proposed to protect the Bristol Bay watershed.

The lawmakers, led by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., say a mine would threaten Bristol Bay’s world-class fishery and thousands of American jobs that rely on it.

Pebble Limited Partnership has argued the EPA’s use of the 404(c) provision in the Clean Water Act wrongly blocked the mine before the developers even had a chance to apply for a permit. The partnership recently announced a scaled-back mining plan, far smaller than the massive open-pit operation the owners previously outlined in a financial disclosure.

The letter comes a day after CNN aired an 8-minute story about the issue.

The CNN report focuses on the EPA administrator’s quick decision to remove the Obama administration’s protection for Bristol Bay.

“The meeting at EPA headquarters was brief and to the point,” the CNN story begins. “By the time it ended a mining company hoping to dig for gold and copper got just what it wanted.”

CNN said the reversal came before the scientists and professional staff of EPA had a chance to brief Pruitt, and directly after he met with Pebble CEO Tom Collier.

Collier told CNN the administrator’s decision was a matter of due process, not science.

“I don’t have a ‘friend’ at EPA,” Collier insisted in a CNN interview. “What I’ve got is someone who is following the damn law.”

The EPA’s comment period for the proposed withdrawal of Clean Water Act restrictions ends Oct. 17. In their letter, the Democratic lawmakers ask for a 90-day extension.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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