EPA reconsiders restrictions on Pebble

EPA officials hold an impromptu town hall in Dillingham’s boat yard on Thursday morning. (Photo by Alex Hager/KDLG)

The Environmental Protection Agency announced good news Wednesday for the company backing the proposed Pebble Mine: The EPA is officially reconsidering the proposal it made during the Obama administration to essentially block the Southwest Alaska project.

The latest in this stop-and-go process came in a memo from EPA General Counsel Matt Leopold to the regional EPA office that includes Alaska, Region 10. 

The administrative history on this is complicated, and that’s reflected in the memo. It directs Region 10 to resume considering whether to withdraw its 2014 proposal restricting the mine.

That was the proposal that buoyed the hopes of mine opponents. It concluded that a large mine poses an unacceptable risk to the streams and fish runs of Bristol Bay. 

The new memo essentially puts the EPA back to the early months of the Trump administration, when the agency was considering whether to toss the Obama-era proposal. But in 2018, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt surprised everyone by halting the bureaucratic action, leaving the 2014 stream protection proposal undisturbed.

Leopold’s memo restarts the action. It doesn’t order the EPA to withdraw the 2014 proposal, only to resume deliberations on whether to withdraw it. Leopold was in Bristol Bay this month to hear opinions on the mine.

The Pebble Partnership has proposed a scaled-down mine that it says is safe. Opponents say Pebble is trying to get approval for an unrealistically small mine that it will then try to expand.

Meanwhile, EPA’s Region 10 is working on its evaluation of Pebble’s proposal, which is due July 1.