By BECKY BOHRER
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) a¿¿ U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has come out against the proposed Pebble Mine, calling the massive gold-and-copper project "the wrong mine in the wrong place for Alaska."
In a statement released by his office Monday, Begich said he has long supported Alaska's mining industry and believes continued efforts must be made to support resource-development industries that help keep Alaska's economy strong. But he said "years of scientific study (have) proven the proposed Pebble Mine cannot be developed safely in the Bristol Bay watershed."
"Thousands of Alaskans have weighed in on this issue, and I have listened to their concerns," he said. "Pebble is not worth the risk."
In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiated a review of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region in response to concerns about the impact of the proposed Pebble Mine on fisheries. The agency released its final report last week, concluding that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed posed significant risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures that rely on it. The region is home to a world-premier sockeye salmon fishery.
The report did not recommend any policy or regulatory decisions. But EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said it would serve as the scientific foundation for the agency's response to the tribes and others who petitioned EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. Mine opponents have been pressing the agency to take steps to block or limit the project.
Begich, a Democrat, is the only member of the state's congressional delegation to outright oppose the project, and his position, first reported by the Anchorage Daily News, won praise from Pebble critics on Monday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, both Republicans, last week expressed concerns that the EPA report could be used to pre-emptively veto the project, saying that would set a bad precedent.