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The agency’s first administrator interpreted the law as giving him the power to nix proposals at any stage of the regulatory process to dump dredge or fill material into the nation’s waterways. During his second tour of duty as the EPA administrator under President Ronald Reagan, William D. Ruckelshaus, wrote in a veto decision that the Clean Water Act “authorizes several degrees of limitation on discharge of dredged or fill material at a disposal site.” He noted that he could prohibit all future dredging material disposal regardless of whether a site was specified in a permit — or he could issue a “prohibition of specification” if no permit had been issued.
For now, the EPA is mum on whether it will use its veto power to stop Pebble Mine before the developers apply for federal permission to break ground, though it hasn’t explicitly ruled out the option. Agency officials have said they will not make any regulatory decisions until after they complete the watershed assessment.
Supporters of the mine complain that completing the study using the data and methods contained in the drafts could affect public opinion against the project before they can unveil formal plans. They also fear the impact a “pre-permitting” review could have on other companies looking to develop natural resources and attract investors.
“EPA’s opinion on these sorts of things carries a lot of weight,” the Pebble Partnership’s Robertson said.