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Alaska Republicans Open to EPA Pebble Mine Veto

The Biden administration’s move to veto the contentious Pebble gold and copper mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed may soothe the state’s Republican senators who in the past have pushed back against federal intervention.

GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan said he and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, both staunch supporters of mining in Alaska, are still digesting the agency’s proposal to impose a Clean Water Act veto against mining in the watershed.

Sullivan suggested his opposition to federal intervention could be muted if EPA’s decision was based on Pebble LP’s most recent proposal. When the Obama administration tried to veto the project, the company had yet to enter the permitting process. The agency used a watershed assessment and publicly available information about the company’s intentions.

Indeed, Sullivan told E&E News his past opposition was based on EPA moving forward with a “preemptive veto.” In 2014, he said, there was “kind of a vague declaration that the EPA had the power to veto any project on state of Alaska land, that they deem vetoable.”

“Most people, myself included, and the whole Alaskan delegation, were vehemently opposed to that, because they didn’t have the legal authority to do it,” said Sullivan. “If this is based on the project, not the 2014 watershed assessment, it’s very different.”

The Alaska delegation’s position has evolved over the years. Sullivan and Murkowski called for a rigorous permitting process and in 2020 voiced their opposition to the mine. Their shift coincided with the Army Corps of Engineers expressing concerns about the company’s mitigation plans.

The Army Corps went on to reject the Pebble project, planned upstream from the world’s most productive sockeye salmon fishery. Executives are in the process of appealing the Army Corps’ decision.

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