Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy says he’s going to pursue legal action against the Environmental Protection Agency’s veto of the Pebble Mine. On Tuesday’s Talk of Alaska, he called the EPA’s final determination a political decision.
“It’s on state land. We traded land for this particular mineral find,” he said. “The whole premise of Alaska as a going concern, as an entity, as a sovereign is that we were to develop our resources. That’s the irony of this whole thing.”
The EPA has vetoed mining at the Pebble deposit in southwest Alaska, exercising a rarely-used power under the Clean Water Act to ban and restrict the discharge of mining materials in waters around the site. It says doing so will “help protect the most productive wild salmon ecosystem in the world.”
Some Bristol Bay tribes started petitioning the EPA to use that veto authority in 2010, and the process has flip-flopped between three presidential administrations. Dunleavy, meanwhile, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the EPA’s actions at the Pebble deposit.
Opponents of the mine are celebrating the decision, and Dunleavy said he understands that some don’t like the Pebble project.
“But as governor, my job is to make sure that we take advantage of every opportunity,” he said. “I believe we have the best environmental standards in the world. And I think it’s… I think it’s a sad day for Alaska for the country.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied Pebble a federal permit in 2020, but the company appealed that decision.
EPA officials said in a news conference on Monday that this ban is specific to the Pebble deposit and does not apply to any other projects in the state. But Dunleavy called the EPA’s action a “dangerous precedent.” He also said it was one in a series of projects that could have provided jobs in Alaska but were struck down.
“The irony of a lot of these projects that are trying to be shut down is that they’re located in some of the poorest areas of our state,” he said. “Now, what’s the answer for some of those folks that want to develop their resources, whether it’s Kokhanok, whether it’s out of Pedro Bay, Iliamna, what’s the alternative for them? A check from the government?”
Opponents of the mine say it would threaten the region’s ecosystem as well as the Alaska Native cultures that rely on traditional harvesting of wild foods, like salmon.
The Bristol Bay Native Corporation echoed other groups that cheered the EPA’s decision.
“We’re ecstatic that the EPA issued the final determination,” said Daniel Cheyette, the corporation’s senior vice president for lands and resources. “We do want to develop. But we want to develop in ways that are sustainable for the region and supported by the majority of the folks that live in the region and that are our shareholders.”
Cheyette calls the EPA’s decision a major brick in the wall to protect the region’s salmon-based economy. But he said the Bristol Bay Watershed needs an even bigger wall to protect it from projects like Pebble Mine; the corporation plans to ask Alaska’s congressional delegation for help in passing legislation to head off mining and other potentially harmful development in the region.
Alaska’s congressional delegation had mixed responses to the announcement. Sen. Dan Sullivan said that while he opposed Pebble, the EPA’s actions could set a precedent for development on state lands. Sen. Lisa Murkowski reiterated her opposition to the mine but said she supports mining in the state and that the Biden administration has a responsibility to support other projects. Meanwhile, Rep. Mary Peltola supports the EPA’s use of its veto authority at the site.
KNBA’s Rhonda McBride contributed reporting on BBNC’s reactions to this story.