Murkowski, Sullivan Criticize EPA’s Pursuit of Veto for Pebble Mine

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both R-Alaska) released the following statements after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a revised “Proposed Determination” to prohibit and restrict the use of certain waters and watersheds for the discharge of dredged and fill material from the Pebble Deposit area near Bristol Bay, Alaska. The Proposed Determination, if finalized, would effectively halt the Pebble project and other potential mining in the affected area.

Senator Murkowski: 

“I oppose the Pebble mine and supported the Trump administration’s decision to reject its permit application in 2020. Pebble did not meet the high bar for development and is – as the late Senator Stevens said – the ‘wrong mine in the wrong place.’ I continue to stand firmly with the many Alaskans, including fishermen and Alaska Natives, who are against this project.

“Today’s action by EPA is one way to further prevent the Pebble mine from moving forward. However, there is no guarantee that a future administration will not revoke it, and most Alaskans, myself included, have never supported a blanket, preemptive approach for any project. My concern has always been that this could be used as precedent to target resource development projects across our state.

“If we want long-term certainty for fisheries protection, the only lasting path involves bringing Alaskans together in a stakeholder-led process that seeks consensus and helps avoid years of further division. My goal is to help Alaskans come together to find that solution.”  

Senator Sullivan: 

“For reasons I have previously stated, I opposed the Pebble mine after the Trump administration’s thorough, fair, and objective process which denied Pebble’s permit application. While an extensive record and the law has dictated that Pebble Mine should not move forward based on the previous permit application, I have consistently opposed the EPA’s pursuit of preemptive veto authority over resource development projects on state lands in Alaska. This is the wrong approach to providing certainty for Bristol Bay and stability for Alaska, and could threaten Alaskans’ ability to responsibly develop our world-class resources in other parts of the state, for the benefit of our communities.”

Background: EPA’s Region 10 Office announced a Proposed Determination under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act that would “prohibit the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with mining the Pebble deposit” into the South Fork Koktuli River (SFK), North Fork Koktuli River (NFK), and Upper Tularik Creek (UTC) watersheds. 

EPA’s announcement does not detail the full scope of the Proposed Determination, but notes that “The Defined Area for Prohibition is the mine site footprint for the 2020 Mine Plan. The Defined Area for Restriction encompasses certain headwaters of the SFK, NFK, and UTC watersheds where discharges associated with mining the Pebble deposit are likely.” The Proposed Determination is slated for release on May 26, 2022 and will be subject to public comment through July 5, 2022. According to EPA’s release, “This action does not apply to any other resource development projects in the state of Alaska.”  

EPA’s Proposed Determination resumes a process initiated by the Obama administration that led to an initial Proposed Determination in 2014. The Trump administration withdrew that determination, allowed Pebble to go through environmental permitting, and ultimately rejected its application for a Clean Water Act permit in 2020.

At the time, the Trump administration found that “the project could have substantial environmental impacts within the unique Bristol Bay watershed and lacks adequate compensatory mitigation.” In 2021, a federal court vacated the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the 2014 determination, enabling EPA to renew this effort.

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