The settlement opens the door for mine backers to apply for a Clean Water Act permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers before the EPA move forward with its Clean Water Act process to specify limits on disposal of certain material in connection with the mine.
In turn, PLP agreed to drop lawsuits and requests for fees from the EPA related to Clean Water Act restrictions.
The settlement has enraged many groups who harvest wild salmon from the Bristol Bay watershed, including commercial fishermen. Bristol Bay, famed for its run of millions of wild sockeye salmon, is a multi-million dollar commercial fishery also valuable to sport anglers, subsistence fishermen and the region’s abundant wildlife.
The Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining entity Northern Dynasty Minerals, meanwhile is hailing the settlement as a major step forward for the project.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a statement saying that 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 litigation.”
Pebble officials say they now have a clear path to proceed with a normal permitting and review process, removing a major stumbling block to finding new investors.
Mine opponents, from Senator Maria Cantwell, D-WA, to Norm Van Vactor, president and chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. say the EPA’s decision was wrong. “We will do whatever it takes to protect Bristol Bay,” Van Vactor said during a news conference in Dillingham, Alaska, after the EPA decision was made public.
“Bristol Bay needs and deserves certainty that our sustainable industries and world class salmon fishery will continue,” said Joseph Chythlook, chairman of the Bristol Bay Native Corp. “Any settlement between EPA and Pebble moves us further away from that potential result.”