Walker doubles down on opposing Pebble Mine

While Gov. Bill Walker expressed concerns about EPA’s earlier actions, he came out strongly against the project in an interview. (Alaska Governor’s Office photo)

Tomorrow, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier is expected to publicly outline a plan for the proposed Pebble Mine project for the first time.

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But in an interview today, Governor Bill Walker said he’s against the controversial mine.

“I am not supportive of the Pebble Mine,” Walker said.

Walker said the mine’s developers have not yet proven to him that the project can be done without harming the Bristol Bay region’s salmon fishery.

“I do not have information sufficient for me to be comfortable or supportive of the Pebble Mine. The burden is on them to prove that it can be done without a risk to the fish in that area. It’s a high burden – it’s the highest burden, and to me, they have not met that yet,” Walker said.

Walker said he will consider what Pebble’s developers have to say, but he’s also listening closely to concerns from people who could be affected by the mine.

The governor did not say he’s planning to take any specific actions to halt the project.

“I don’t know that there’s a lever for me to pull that’s going to absolutely stop it,” Walker said, adding, “I think that there are a lot of protections that are already in place.”

It’s not the first time the Governor has said he’s not in favor of the mine — he came out against the project while campaigning for office in 2014. But the state will likely take on a bigger role in the Pebble Mine controversy soon.

Under the Obama administration, U.S. EPA proposed restrictions on the mine before the standard permitting process began.

Walker said he did have concerns about EPA’s previous action.

“Alaska’s a resource state…and my concern with that is that they sort of overstepped and didn’t let a process play out. If [EPA] could do that on that issue, then there are other issues they could do that as well,” Walker said. “It’s a delicate issue, but I certainly would not want to have that happen on a development that was not anywhere near a risk to a fishing area.”

However, Scott Pruitt, the EPA Administrator under President Donald Trump, reached a settlement with Pebble this spring, opening the door for the project to begin the permitting process. If that happens, the state also will begin its review of the mine.

Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for Pebble Ltd. Partnership, responded to Walker’s remarks in an emailed statement.

“The governor is correct that the burden is on us to demonstrate we will not impact the fish resource in the region,” Heatwole said. “While we believe our plan meets this hurdle, the next step is to have our plan thoroughly and objectively evaluated via the permitting process to determine if we meet the high standards Alaskans expect for development.”

Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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