More than 40 U.S. House and Senate members have asked President Donald Trump to maintain protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay region, which produces about half of the world’s sockeye salmon. These protections, if left in place, would block the development of the proposed Pebble Project, a massive gold and copper deposit in the Bristol Bay watershed.
The letter is a response to a directive from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) head Scott Pruitt to his staff on May 1 to withdraw the proposed protections put in place by the Obama administration. Protections that the Pebble Partnership has argued were an overreach of the agency’s authority as they were issued pre-emptively to a mine plan being submitted.
The stalled Pebble Mine project received new life when the EPA said it would move to lift restrictions on development sought by the Obama administration as part of a legal settlement with the Pebble Limited Partnership, The Associated Press reported.
The EPA's move would have to be finalized, and Pebble still would have to apply for and be granted permits to mine in the area before any construction could take place.
Dated Oct. 11, the letter was issued ahead of the close of a 90-comment period about the proposed project and was spearheaded by Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Rep. Jared Huffman of California, and was seeking additional public hearings and comment time.
In a statement, the EPA said it will consider all public comments it receives on its proposal and review the request to extend the comment period.
Tom Collier, Pebble Partnership chief executive officer, maintained a mine could be built in an environmentally friendly manner that would have no ecological ramifications. Pebble plans to file permit applications in December, he said, and the mine proposal will be far smaller than the EPA had thought when it moved, under the Obama administration, to protect the watershed and pre-emptively veto certain mining activities.
“The Bristol Bay watershed is 104,000 km2 (40,000 sq miles) with millions of acres already in protected status,” Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said in an email to CNN. The company plans to propose a mine site that would cover 33 km2 (12.7 sq miles), according to a presentation posted on the company’s website. The EPA’s proposal to withdraw Obama-era protections for Bristol Bay does not ensure a mine will be built, Heatwole said, but rather gives the company the opportunity to apply for permits. “All we have ever sought is the ability to have the project reviewed like every other resource development project in the nation,” he said.