The Trump administration took a big step Tuesday towards repealing former President Barack Obama’s restrictions on opening a gold mine in Alaska.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposal to nix Obama’s plan to block the Pebble Mine to protect the state’s water quality and the area’s salmon population. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wants to give developers time to request mining permits from the Army Corps of Engineers without being blocked.
“A withdrawal of the proposed determination would remove any uncertainty, real or perceived, about [the developer’s] ability to submit a permit application and have that permit application reviewed,” the proposal noted.
Obama’s decision turned the mine into a political football. Environmentalists rallied around the blockage and Republicans railed against the move because they feared the president was overstepping his authority.
Activists believed that the mine would pollute streams running into nearby Bristol Bay, Alaska — the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. Obama’s EPA agreed and worked to block the mine.
The EPA prevented the Pebble Mine from even applying for a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit after the urging of environmental groups and some Alaskan tribes, some of which were wary of more development in Bristol Bay.
An agency report in 2014 signaled to investors that the project had a slim chance at acquiring a federal permit. Mining company Rio Tinto pulled out of the project shortly after the EPA’s report was issued. Other companies shortly followed suit.
Republican lawmakers in the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology launched investigations into Obama’s decision and found that EPA ecologist Phil North worked with mine opponents to block Pebble Mine from being built.
Pruitt’s plan will be published in the Federal Register shortly, kicking off a three-month period for activists and shareholders to submit comments about the proposal. Obama initially blocked the mine in 2014.
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