The EPA has granted permission for the Pebble Mine to pursue permits for a site in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

The proposed Pebble Mine could affect the salmon fishery in Bristol Bay. Image: Shutterstock

The Environmental Protection Agency has granted Pebble Limited Partnership permission to pursue permits for the development of a huge copper and gold deposit.

This is a reversal from the EPA’s earlier stance. But the agency reached a legal settlement on May 11, allowing the company to apply for permits and develop site plans.

The proposed Pebble Mine is to be built near Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Environmental advocates and Native groups have come out against the mine because of the bay’s importance as the spawning grounds for sockeye salmon, the United States’ most lucrative salmon fishery. According to the Los Angeles Times, the fishery is worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

The fight over whether Pebble Mine should be developed has been going on for more than 10 years. In 2014, Pebble Limited Partnership, owned by Canadian company Northern Dynasty Minerals, sued the EPA after the agency ruled that the Bristol Bay watershed is too fragile and unique to allow large-scale mining.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said, “We understand how much the community cares about this issue, with passionate advocates on all sides. The agreement will not guarantee or prejudge a particular outcome, but will provide Pebble a fair process for their permit application and help steer EPA away from costly and time-consuming legislation. We are committed to listening to all voices as this process unfolds.

Taryn Kiekow Heimer, a senior policy analyst at the National Resource Defense Council, took issue with the EPA’s reversal of its stance on development of the Pebble Mine. In a blog post published on May 12, she said that the Pebble Mine would create only about 1,000 temporary mining jobs while threatening 14,000 other jobs related to tourism and the salmon fishery. She also mentioned that a heavily reviewed scientific study concluded that the Pebble mine poses potentially “catastrophic” risks to the region.

“Bristol Bay is too important—economically, environmentally, and culturally—to be sacrificed for the sake of a mine,” she wrote. “Instead of putting America first, it sells out a $1.5 billion annual fishery and 14,000 jobs for the profit of foreign investors. Instead of making America great, it risks America’s greatest wild salmon runs.”

The EPA’s settlement does not provide an automatic green light for development of the mine. It does, however, allow the company to pursue permits and will give the Army Corps of Engineers time to complete an environmental impact study on the proposed mine. The Corps does have to complete that study within four years.

Rob Theissen, president and CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals, praised President Trump, Pruitt, and the members of Congress who had exerted pressure on the EPA to settle the case.

“From the outset of this unfortunate saga, we’ve asked for nothing more than fairness and due process under the law—the right to propose a development plan for Pebble and have it assessed against the robust environmental regulations and rigorous permitting requirements enforced in Alaska and the United States,” Theissen said in a statement. “Today’s settlement gives us precisely that, the same treatment every developer and investor in a stable, first-world country should expect.”