The Trump administration has taken a key step toward paving the way for a controversial gold, copper and molybdenum mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, marking a sharp reversal from President Barack Obama’s opposition to the project.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed withdrawing its 2014 determination barring any large-scale mine in the area because it would imperil the region’s valuable sockeye salmon fishery. The agency said it would accept public comments on the proposal for the next 90 days.
“The facts haven’t changed. The science hasn’t changed. The opposition hasn’t changed,” said Taryn Kiekow Heimer, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has fought the proposed mine. “The fact that it’s the wrong mine in the wrong place hasn’t changed. But the politics have changed.”
The EPA’s latest action stems from a legal settlement in the spring with Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the Canadian firm Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. The settlement did not grant an immediate approval for the polarizing project, but it did begin to clear the way for the company to apply for federal permits — a path the Obama administration had thwarted.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said at the time that the settlement did not “guarantee” a particular outcome and that he merely wanted to provide the company a “fair process” while avoiding “costly and time-consuming litigation.” Northern Dynasty Minerals, which has sued the EPA on several occasions regarding the project, has said that it wants “nothing more than fairness and due process under the law.”