Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in a briefing Monday with reporters, said if the proposed Pebble mine cannot be safely developed, the state -- not the federal government -- should make that call.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week released a study that concluded a large mine in the Bristol Bay region would pose significant risk to sockeye salmon. Tribes, Native groups and environmental organizations are pushing EPA to use the Clean Water Act to block the mine even before developers submit their plan or seek permits.
EPA hasn't said whether it intends to veto the mine, which would be built on state land.
"But they're sure kind of leading up to the point where it would seem they would take that next, last step," Murkowski said. "As an Alaskan I want to make sure that on our state lands using our state process that we're able to make the decision for ourselves."
Murkowski said she and her staff are still reviewing the EPA report. Pebble Ltd. Partnership chief executive John Shively said the study is not sound science. Murkowski wasn't ready Monday to characterize it. Over the weekend, Sen. Mark Begich said the EPA report convinced him that Pebble shouldn't be developed.
Murkowski has been sharply critical of the prospect that EPA might veto the mine at this stage. She said Monday she understands the concerns about a big mine there. The Bristol Bay region is an amazing place in a state rich with splendor, she said.
"It is incumbent upon us if we are seeking to develop these amazing spaces that we do so with a level of care and stewardship that should be a model for the world," she said.
"There's no compromise, there's no give when it comes to the health of our extraordinary fisheries out there," Murkowski said.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.