As tensions between environmental groups and industry officials grow over the draft environmental impact statement for the Pebble Mine project, a large-scale copper and gold exploration project proposed for the Bristol Bay region, the U.S House of Representatives has voted to suspend funding for the permitting process for the next year.

Amendment 90 to the Energy and Water Appropriations Act (H.R. 2740), introduced by California Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman, essentially designates that no funding from the Energy and Water Appropriations Act would be able to be used for the permitting process.

The Army Corps of Engineers is required to draft an environmental impact statement for the project before permits can either be approved or rejected under the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act.  

Don Young

U.S. Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska, 2012. Sam Harrel/News-Miner 

Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young voted against the amendment, criticizing members of Congress for obstructing the permitting process.

“This is state land. They put it up for discovery and it was discovered,” Young said in a floor speech last week. “Under the clause of discovery you have a right for exploration, under the right for exploration you have the right for production if it is possible through the permitting process. ... Let’s go through the process.”

Young slammed Congress for listening to members discussing the topic who “don’t know a thing about it.”

The Corps released the DEIS in February, sparking initial concern from both of Alaska’s senators. 

“It is critical for us to understand the potential impacts of this project,” Murkowski said. “As I have said before, we must have confidence that Bristol Bay’s world-class fisheries are fully protected.”

Murkowski has been hesitant about the Pebble Mine since the beginning of the scoping period, continuously noting that Alaska’s fishing industry is vital and she will only support the mine project if the two can coexist without damaging the fishery.

Sullivan told reporters in February that he felt 90 days was too short for a comprehensive comment period. 

“It’s a very legitimate request from my perspective to have more time to do the due diligence on a project of this size,” Sullivan said.

Murkowski and Sullivan were unable to be reached for comment on the amendment.

As the July 1 deadline for public comment draws near, public outcry against the mine has increased with a rally against Pebble Mine, organized by the Alaska Center, scheduled in Fairbanks Friday from 4-6 p.m. in front of City Hall. A companion rally will be held in Anchorage noon-3 p.m. today. 

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.