EPA Reverses Position on Alaska Mine Following Meeting Between President Trump and Alaska Governor

Silencing Science Tracker

EPA Reverses Position on Alaska Mine Following Meeting Between President Trump and Alaska Governor

On August 9, 2019 CNN reported that the day after President Trump met with Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told staff scientists that it was no longer opposing an Alaskan mine project that could devastate one of the world’s most valuable wild salmon fisheries. The EPA publicly announced the decision to drop opposition to the Pebble Mine project on July 30, 2019, but EPA staff sources told CNN that the agency informed the staff a month earlier on June 27, one day after Gov. Dunleavy met with the President on June 26.

The project was halted in 2014 after an EPA study found that the copper-and-gold mine planned near Bristol Bay, Alaska would cause a complete loss of fish habitat. It was halted under a rarely used provision of the Clean Water Act that works like a veto and effectively banned mining on the site. In undoing this veto, current and former EPA officials say the agency is ignoring its own scientific findings.

The Trump administration first considered allowing the mine to move forward in 2017 when, under then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the agency directed staff to withdraw the protection and let the project move forward. However, Pruitt later changed his mind and allowed the protection to stay in place while the agency investigated further.

On June 26, 2019, the same day that Trump met with Dunleavy, the EPA announced it would begin reconsidering whether to lift the veto. Scientists believed this would give them weeks or months to examine the previous findings and potentially stop the project. However, on June 27, senior agency officials summoned scientists and other staffers to an internal videoconference during which EPA General Counsel Matthew Leopold announced that a decision had been made to lift the veto and that no further consideration of the matter was needed. The decision disregarded the standard assessment process under the Clean Water Act and completely cut scientists out of the process, with a source telling CNN “[w]e were basically told we weren’t going to examine anything. We were told to get out of the way and just make it happen.”

Following the July 30 public announcement, the EPA’s spokesman told CNN that the 2014 preemptive veto was a departure from regular procedure and that decision to withdraw the veto does not mean the project will go ahead, just that the permit will be evaluated under the correct process.

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