Fishery groups defend EPA on Pebble Mine

Fisherman and conservation groups sought Wednesday to discredit charges that the Obama administration is attempting to sabotage a contentious mine project in Alaska, describing accusations from developers as recycled falsehoods.

The groups’ rebuttal of fresh allegations from developers marks the latest salvo in an escalating feud over the planned Pebble Mine at a southwestern Alaska site viewed as potentially the largest deposit of undiscovered copper and gold in the world.

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On Tuesday, the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) challenged a move by the Environmental Protection Agency that could halt the project, describing the action as unprecedented government overreach.

EPA officials maintain they initiated a rarely used veto process under the Clean Water Act to allow for further review of the project's impact on the environment, including the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in nearby Bristol Bay.

"Pebble continually and deliberately fails to mention that EPA's involvement in Bristol Bay came at the request of the people of Alaska and the fishermen of Bristol Bay,” said Katherine Carscallen, Sustainability Director for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “Taking action under the Clean Water Act is the next step in order for EPA to complete their job and protect ours.”

The group points to studies showing the project would threaten the $1.5 billion commercial fishery and 14,000 jobs supported by Bristol Bay.

The battle over the proposed mine has been brewing for years, and the EPA’s action rekindled debate earlier this year about the agency’s role in the permitting process, which is traditionally the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier contended in an interview this week with The Hill that the project has “become the poster child for an expansion of EPA authority.”

Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program, described the remarks as “nothing more than a rehash of the tired, empty and dishonest rhetoric the company has used in Alaska for the last decade.”

“PLP’s response won’t change the size, scope, and location of the Pebble Mine,” Bristol said. “It won’t change the fact that the people of the Bristol Bay region are still faced with economic uncertainty stemming from the threat of North America’s largest open pit mine being built on top of a valuable wild salmon fishery.”

Proponents deny suggestions that the project would decimate the area’s fish population and maintain it would bring thousands of jobs to the economically battered area.