Alaska Republicans come out against EPA Pebble mine veto

By Jael Holzman | 05/27/2022 06:29 AM EDT

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan oppose the Pebble mine project. They’re also against an EPA plan to stop its development.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) during a press conference on Capitol Hill in March. Francis Chung/E&E News

Alaska’s two Republican senators came out against EPA’s proposed veto of the Pebble copper and gold mine near Bristol Bay even though they oppose the project’s development.

EPA on Wednesday proposed using the Clean Water Act to veto mining in the Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska, citing irreparable damage to the area’s valuable salmon fishery.

But even though Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan don’t want Pebble to advance, they see the Biden EPA’s plan as a heavy-handed federal government intervention that could stymie future resource development in Alaska.


Murkowski said EPA’s action “is one way to further prevent the Pebble mine from moving forward” but provides “no guarantee that a future administration will not revoke it.” Murkowski said she has “never supported a blanket, preemptive approach for any project.”

“My concern has always been that this could be used as precedent to target resource development projects across our state,” she said, asserting the “only lasting path” to stop the mine for good would be “a stakeholder-led process that seeks consensus and helps avoid years of further division.”

Sullivan, who refuted claims he privately supported the mine, offered a similar comment to Murkowski.

“I have consistently opposed the EPA’s pursuit of preemptive veto authority over resource development projects on state lands in Alaska,” Sullivan said. “This is the wrong approach to providing certainty for Bristol Bay and stability for Alaska, and could threaten Alaskans’ ability to responsibly develop our world-class resources in other parts of the state, for the benefit of our communities.”

During remarks to E&E News on Wednesday, after EPA made its plans public, Sullivan seemed open to the idea of an EPA veto. Both he and Murkowski supported the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to reject the mine. The company is appealing that denial (E&E Daily, May 26).

The politics around Pebble mine have long been complex, with prominent Alaskans on both sides of the aisle expressing concern about the mine. At the same time, GOP lawmakers in Washington blasted the Obama EPA’s move to veto the mine before it had entered the permitting process.

Former Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) came out against the mine during his campaign against Sullivan. But even though Sullivan was more nuanced about the project, he ended up beating Begich (E&E News PM, Oct. 24, 2014).

Opposing Pebble gained currency among Republicans when Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News host Tucker Carlson expressed concern about the mine’s development (Greenwire, Aug. 24, 2020).

Sullivan and Murkowski’s latest statements follow Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) decrying the EPA veto, claiming it potentially carried implications for the rest of Alaska’s mining industry.

“EPA’s action could very well become the template for stopping future mines in Alaska and across the country,” Dunleavy said. “Alaska will not be bullied by Washington, D.C., bureaucrats.”

In an interview yesterday, Jason Brune, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, told E&E News he expects the state will file public comments against the proposed veto and, if the veto is finalized, the state will “absolutely” challenge it in court.

“Our only opportunity to prevail over an activist federal administration is through the courts,” Brune said.