Washington, DC (AP) - The head of the Environmental Protection Agency says a decision on an application for an Alaska mine will not be his to make, a report said.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has recused himself from deliberations over Pebble Mine because he previously did for work for a law firm hired by the project, Alaska Public Media reported Thursday.
Wheeler has left the decision to the EPA's top lawyer, he said.
Wheeler spoke about easing industry regulations at a Resource Development Council luncheon in Anchorage Tuesday.
"So far, you all are the first people to have raised Pebble to me," he said to journalists at the Dena'ina Center. "But if people do raise it, I just explain that under my ethics recusal with the agency, which I abide by, I can't discuss Pebble mine."
Bristol Bay fishing communities have campaigned against the proposed gold and copper mine in southwest Alaska for more than a decade. Other Alaska residents including some from villages close to the site say they would welcome the jobs.
The EPA can veto Pebble's application, even if the Army Corps of Engineers approves the project.
Forty staff members worked on a document reviewing the Pebble environmental impact statement that includes 170 pages of comments, said EPA Region 10 administrator Chris Hladick.
"Anything that you do at the EPA comes with consensus of headquarters," he said.
The document has prompted Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski to express doubts that the environmental review has been sufficiently rigorous, she said.
"This is considerable," she said of criticism of Pebble's plan. "And it needs to be addressed."