Trump EPA revives Obama proposal to block controversial Alaska mine

Trump EPA revives Obama proposal to block controversial Alaska mine
© Greg Nash

The Trump administration is reviving a controversial Obama administration proposal to block a massive gold mine proposed in Alaska after previously saying it would revive the proposal.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments Sanders endures press grilling over Russia Court blocks EPA policy against enforcing truck pollution rule MORE announced the surprise reversal late Friday, saying that the EPA now believes that the Pebble Mine project would be unacceptably harmful to Bristol Bay and its tributaries.

Pruitt said he made the call after speaking with various stakeholders involved in the decision, citing serious concerns over the impact from mining and mining waste on the bay.

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“We have restored process, reviewed comments, and heard from a variety of stakeholders on whether to withdraw the proposed restrictions in the Bristol Bay watershed,” Pruitt said in a statement.

“Based on that review, it is my judgment at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there. Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection.”

Pruitt said he would soon open a formal public comment process to get input on the agency’s next steps on Pebble Mine.

The decision in May to withdraw the Obama administration’s proposal to block Pebble Mine was one of a series of related rollbacks by Trump’s EPA.

The Obama EPA in 2014 proposed to block the southwest Alaska project under the Clean Water Act, despite Pebble not having submitted a plan or an application.

Republicans and the project’s backers slammed that move as a pre-emptive veto and said it was illegal, and the EPA never finalized it because of a federal court’s hold on the process.

In May, Pruitt said he would start the process of undoing the proposed veto, a move widely criticized by environmentalists and Alaska Native tribes in the area.

“We are committed to due process and the rule of law, and regulations that are 'regular,’ ” Pruitt said at the time.

But the EPA specified at the time that its move did not allow the mine to start operation, since the agency would still review Pebble’s application if it were filed. Pebble formally applied for its permits last month.

Pebble is controversial in Alaska and among its leaders. Gov. Bill Walker (I) opposes it. Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungOvernight Energy: New EPA head looks to reassure staff | New round of ex-Pruitt staffers leave | House votes to overhaul fisheries law | Trump rips Germany for pipeline deal with Russia House votes to overhaul fishery management law Bipartisan solution is hooked on facts, not fiction MORE (R) and Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R) and Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanDems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act GOP senator: NATO summit 'turned out well' Sunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin MORE (R) want to allow Pebble to apply for a permit, but do not want the mine to hurt the Bristol Bay ecosystem, especially the salmon there.