EPA Throws Another Boon to the Pebble Mine

Announces plan to kill Bristol Bay protections

EPA just announced plans to withdraw its 2014 Proposed Determination that, if finalized, would have placed common-sense restrictions on the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Alannah Hurley, Executive Director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, said that today’s announcement is a “direct assault on the years of work Bristol Bay’s Tribes have undertaken to protect our watershed. Today's announcement came with no prior notice, and in fact comes less than two weeks after EPA’s general counsel met with community leaders in Dillingham and stated he had no intention of changing the status quo at that time.”

The Obama-era restrictions came at the direct request of the tribes, communities, fishermen and businesses of Bristol Bay—and only after the agency undertook an extensive three-year, twice-peer reviewed scientific assessment that found a mine like Pebble would have “significant” and potentially “catastrophic” impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed.

Yet, at the request of the mining company, EPA is now reversing course. EPA General Counsel Matt Leopold just issued a memorandum that instructs EPA Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick to:

  1. “resume its consideration whether to withdraw the 2014 Proposed Determination to restrict the use of the Pebble Deposit Area as a disposal site” under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act; and
  2. “reconsider its previous statement that it would seek additional public comment on the 2014 Proposed Determination…”

Leopold’s memo also instructs Hladick to “invoke the elevation procedures established between EPA and the Army if the factual analysis leads to a conclusion that the requisite standard is satisfied.” Under Section 404(q) of the Clean Water Act, EPA can inform the Army Corps if it believes a project will have a "substantial and unacceptable" impact on an aquatic resource of national importance (ARNI).

Notably Leopold's memo does not instruct EPA to invoke elevation process but rather says the agency could do so only "if the factual analysis leads to a conclusion" that it’s needed.

Today’s memo comes from Leopold—not EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler—because Wheeler recused himself from Pebble, since his former firm provided services for Pebble.

It’s inconceivable that EPA is—yet again—throwing a lifeline to a foreign mining company.

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed withdrawing the Obama-era restrictions in 2017. After receiving more than one million comments urging the agency to keep the restrictions in place, Pruitt reversed course.

Now, Trump’s EPA is pivoting once again.

Proponents of the Pebble Mine have spent millions to lobby the Trump administration. According to a recent report: “Since the beginning of the Trump administration, Pebble has paid $4.43 million to in-house and external lobbyists. Since 2007, that number balloons to more than $11 million. This spending represents an enormous percentage of the company’s overall resources.”

What is clear is that Pebble is spending more money on lobbyists than most development projects in North America—and its investment in the swamp is paying off.

The Trump administration is capitulating to mining interests at the expense of the American people and our economy. It’s putting politics above people.

Instead of putting America first, it puts the people of Bristol Bay dead last—behind the interests of a foreign mining company.

Instead of making America great, it undermines our greatest wild salmon fishery—which celebrated record runs of over 62 million salmon last year alone.

Tell the Trump administration to stop the Pebble Mine!

About the Authors

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Deputy Director, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Nature Program

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