New U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Gina McCarthy announced that she plans to visit Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, site of the proposed Pebble Mine, as she decides whether to block what could become one of the largest mines in North America.
Pebble Partnership spokesman Mike Heatwole told McClatchy News Service that the Pebble Partnership plans to host McCarthy and will talk to her about the benefits of the mine and how it can coexist with the region’s salmon fishing industry.
“Hopefully, she can see for herself what the project is all about,” said Heatwole.
An EPA study released in April said the mine could wipe out nearly 100 miles of streams and 4,800 acres of wetlands in the Bristol Bay region. The area produces about half the world’s wild red salmon. However, that report was based on hypothetical mine plans, not actual plans for the Pebble Mine.
The agency is finishing the report as it considers whether to use the Clean Water Act to block development of the mine.
“We believe her visit will confirm for her that the protection of Bristol Bay and its fisheries must remain a top priority for the agency,” said Jason Metrokin, president and chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Native Corp., which opposes the mine.
The mining proposal is among the most heated issues McCarthy faces as she takes over the EPA. Congressional Republicans slam the agency for wading into the fight. Democratic senators from Washington, California and Oregon say the mine threatens the seafood industry.
Several EPA representatives will join McCarthy on the trip, including Dennis McLerran, the Pacific Northwest regional administrator, according to an email that EPA officials sent to Alaska tribes this week.
The email said McCarthy plans to hold meetings in the Bristol Bay communities of Dillingham and Iliamna.
Iliamna Development Corp. CEO Lisa Reimers said meetings are scheduled for Tuesday. She said she welcomes the visit and urges the EPA not to veto the mine.
“Iliamna does not want anything to happen to our fish or our environment,” she said in an email to McClatchy News Service. “But for the EPA to base its assessment on a hypothetical mine that could never be permitted in Alaska is not just unprofessional, it has the potential to have significant negative consequences for our village and our people who are in dire need of economic opportunity.”
Pebble developers have not completed plans for the mine. They say the EPA is rushing to judgment.
The EPA said its work is based on preliminary mine plans submitted to government agencies, including a 2011 report to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The agency said it launched the study at the request of Alaska tribes and others concerned about the salmon.
The Pebble Partnership says the region's deposit is one of the largest of its kind in the world, with potential to produce 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum (used to make stainless steel) over three decades.