EPA hears public comments on proposal to remove permitting roadblock for Pebble Mine

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ANCHORAGE, (KTUU) - The fight over one of the state's most controversial mining projects is heating up again.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering a proposal to withdraw its 2014 Clean Water Act Proposed Determination, which could pave the way for the Pebble Mine project to take its next steps.

Two public hearings are happening this week in Dillingham and Iliamna.

On Wednesday's hearing in Dillingham, some residents including Alannah Hurley with United Tribes of Bristol Bay testified telling the EPA not to withdraw.

"Our voice counts for more than any foreign mining company. Listen to your boss, listen to us, do not withdraw the proposed determination. The people of Bristol Bay aren't going anywhere and we will do whatever it takes to protect our home," Hurley said.

Hurley said a mixed group of those for and against the withdrawl testified in Iliamna on Thursday, with the majority expressing opposition.

The EPA said its proposed determination would have, if finalized, imposed restrictions on the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with the potential Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay watershed.

Mike Heatwole, a spokesperson for The Pebble Partnership said if the EPA withdraws its proposed determination, the project can move forward, initiating the permitting process, but it would still have to be evaluated by some 14 state, federal, and local government agencies.

"I think some people think that getting into the permitting process just means we get the automatic green light to go ahead, no we still have to demonstrate that we can meet all of the regulatory and environmental requirements and that's why we have a permitting process," Heatwole said.

While the EPA declined to do an interview, a spokesperson for the agency provided a written statement that reads, "EPA is in the process of seeking public input, including holding a 90-day public comment period, hosting two public hearings this week in Alaska and formal consultations with tribal governments, providing an opportunity to visit and meet with tribes and local communities in person. EPA will consider the whole record and all of the input the agency receives from the public as we work to decide whether to issue a final withdrawal of the 2014 proposed determination.”

The public comment and consultation period closes October 17.

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