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EPA keeps Obama's restrictions on big Alaskan mine proposal

An employee of Northen Dynasty Mines Inc. mans a drilling rig in the Pebble Mine East site near the village of Iliamna, Alaska. Photo: Luis Sinco / Getty Images

EPA is maintaining (at least for now) Obama-era protections that have thwarted development of a large gold and copper mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed.

Why it matters: The proposed Pebble Mine has been controversial for years amid concerns that it would damage the ecologically sensitive region that's home to the world's largest sockeye salmon run.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's move on Friday evening represents a rare alignment with Obama-era policies, which Pruitt is reversing in some other areas, notably climate change.

What they're saying: The agency said that after a months-long review, it is leaving in place the 2014 restrictions while it "receives more information on the potential mine’s impact on the region’s world-class fisheries and natural resources."

“Based on that review, it is my judgment at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there. Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection," Pruitt said in a statement.

Yes, but: EPA made clear that it's not outright blocking the firm Northern Dynasty Minerals’ proposed mine, and, in a swipe at the Obama administration, said it's instead following due process that its predecessor abandoned.

"The project proponents continue to enjoy the protection of due process and the right to proceed. However, their permit application must clear a high bar, because EPA believes the risk to Bristol Bay may be unacceptable," EPA said.

Go deeper: The Washington Post has an in-depth piece up on EPA's action and the project's backstory.