This time, EPA decision has Pebble mine developers cheering

Sockeye salmon like these tend to use many different parts of the Bristol Bay watershed during their adolescence, according to a recent study. (CREDIT JASON CHING / UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON)
Sockeye salmon like these tend to use many different parts of the Bristol Bay watershed during their adolescence, according to a recent study. (Credit Jason Ching / University of Washington)

Pebble Limited Partnership, the company trying to build a mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, is celebrating an announcement Tuesday from the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has thrown out a proposal launched during the Obama administration that some called a “preemptive” veto of the mine. It’s a procedural decision that has bad implications for mine opponents.

The EPA said the proposal for a “preemptive” veto is outdated, because Pebble has since applied for permits.

And the EPA has a role in reviewing those projects. In early July, to the delight of Bristol Bay fishermen, the EPA found fault with the environmental reports on the project. The agency said the reports may be understating the harm the mine poses to fish and fish habitat. Technically, the EPA still retains the right to veto the permits, if its concerns aren’t satisfied.

But Bristol Bay fisherman Robin Samuelsen said he now doubts the EPA will ultimately block the mine.

“Yes, we’re very disappointed,” he said by phone from Dillingham. “We thought it’d be based on best science. But now it’s being based on politics.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy asked President Trump to help Pebble, Samuelsen said, and now EPA officials are under pressure to green-light the mine. 

Pebble CEO Tom Collier. (Photo: Liz Ruskin)

“Those that don’t like it are going to get fired,” Samuelsen said. “And he has no problems firing people.”

Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow confirmed the governor raised the issue of the “preemptive” veto with Trump. 

Pebble CEO Tom Collier thanked Dunleavy for encouraging the EPA to withdraw the proposal. In a written statement, Collier also said the EPA decision bodes well for Pebble’s permit, reasoning that the EPA would not have withdrawn its proposed veto if it intends to issue one later.