Alaska governor threatens to sue Biden EPA over state land development halt

EPA is finalizing a decision to prohibit development of the Pebble deposit in the Bristol Bay area, the governor said.

Updated: December 3, 2022 - 12:07am

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy says he’s prepared to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency if it blocks the development of over 300 miles of Alaska-owned land.

EPA Region 10, which covers Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and hundreds of Tribal Nations, recommended the agency finalize its decision to prohibit development of the Pebble deposit in the Bristol Bay area, the governor said. The EPA has 60 days to make a final determination.

The governor said he was concerned it could set a “dangerous” precedent by laying the foundation that unelected officials could stop the state from doing development projects in areas with wetlands and fish-bearing streams.

Dunleavy said the agency’s preemptive decision to veto permits before they’re approved by Alaska State agencies was also concerning, saying it disregards the Alaska Statehood Act and violates the Clean Water Act.

“The State of Alaska has the duty, under our constitution, to develop its resources to the maximum in order to provide for itself and its people, so it’s important that any and all opportunities be explored in furtherance of this idea,” said Dunleavy. “The recent decision on the Pebble mine, which is solely located on state land, is the wrong decision. The State of Alaska does resource development better than any other place on the planet and I challenge others to prove that wrong. Our opportunities to show the world a better way to develop our resources should not be unfairly preempted by the Biden administration under a solely political act. This sets a very troubling precedent for the state and the country. If this goes unchallenged, this issue will become precedent-setting, potentially for other states as well.”

EPA Region 10 Regional Administrator Casey Sixkiller recommended Thursday prohibiting and restricting the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed, citing the possibility of adverse effects on salmon fishery areas.

“If affirmed by EPA’s Office of Water, during the fourth and final step, this action would help protect salmon fishery areas that support world-class commercial and recreational fisheries, and that have sustained Alaska Native communities for thousands of years, supporting a subsistence-based way of life for one of the last intact wild salmon-based cultures in the world,’ said Sixkiller.

A letter of opposition from 14 states, including Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Texas, Utah, stated “Decisions like these throw a wild card into the entire 404 permitting process.”

“This is an incredible power for a federal agency staffed by unelected officials, unaccountable to Alaskans, to have,” said Jason Brune, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Attorney General Treg Taylor called the EPA’s decision “legally indefensible.”

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