EPA seeks protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay, undercutting mining project

EPA seeks protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay, undercutting mining project
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The Biden administration announced Thursday it is seeking to restore protections for Alaska’s Bristol Bay, further imperiling a controversial proposed mine that would have been situated at the headwaters to the bay.

The administration indicated in a legal filing that it planned to ask a court to vacate a move by the prior Trump administration to withdraw Obama-era restrictions for the bay.

Bristol Bay is a major salmon producing region, and the 2019 decision that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now seeking to undo had initially paved the way for a gold and copper mine project in the area, though the Trump administration ultimately rejected the project, known as the Pebble Mine.

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The project's proponents pointed to its economic benefits, but opponents feared that its discharges could contaminate local waters. 

“The Bristol Bay Watershed is an Alaskan treasure that underscores the critical value of clean water in America,” EPA Administrator Michael ReganMichael ReganOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Biden administration breaks down climate finance roadmap Obama to attend Glasgow climate summit Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Climate divides conservative Democrats in reconciliation push MORE said in a statement. 

“What’s at stake is preventing pollution that would disproportionately impact Alaska Natives, and protecting a sustainable future for the most productive salmon fishery in North America,” he added.

The decision by the Trump administration to reject the Pebble Mine, which was announced in late November 2020, meant the project's future was already in jeopardy before the latest EPA decision.

The Trump administration seemingly reversed course after prominent conservatives including Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonButtigieg hits back after parental leave criticism: 'Really strange' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by The Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations - US opens to vaccinated visitors as FDA panel discusses boosters Tucker Carlson mocks Buttigieg over paternity leave MORE and the former president's son Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event MORE Jr. came out against it.

The mining project also received pushback from Republicans after a top executive from a company behind it was recorded in undercover tapes expressing a desire to extend the mine’s lifetime beyond what was publicly indicated.

On the tapes, executives also discussed access to the then-Trump administration, Alaska's U.S. senators and the state's governor. 

The company behind the mine has appealed a rejection of the permit for the project, arguing that the final decision did not support the facts established in the Trump administration’s environmental review. 

Asked about the Biden administration's announcement Thursday, a spokesperson for the Pebble Limited Partnership, the company behind the proposed mine, provided The Hill with a statement that reiterated the company's support for the 2019 Trump decision and argued that the mine could be beneficial for the current administration's clean energy goals. 

"It remains our position that the withdrawal of the preemptive veto by the EPA was sound and appropriate," Pebble Limited Partnership spokesperson Mike Heatwole said. "Our focus remains on working through the formal appeal process via the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.]"

"As the Biden Administration seeks lower carbon emissions for energy production, they should recognize that such change will require significantly more mineral production – notably copper.  The Pebble Project remains an important domestic source for the minerals necessary for the administration to reach its green energy goals," he added.