The Trump administration issued a decision Friday morning in favor of Alaskan mine developers at Bristol Bay, which could set off protests among native communities and fishermen that oppose the mine.
"We are committed to due process and the rule of law, and regulations that are 'regular,'" said Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt in a statement. "We understand how much the community cares about this issue, with passionate advocates on all sides."
Pruitt was careful to say the agreement does not "guarantee or prejudge a particular outcome," but provides the Pebble Mine developers "a fair process for their permit application and help steer EPA away from costly and time-consuming litigation."
"We are committed to listening to all voices as this process unfolds," he said.
Salmon fishermen in Bristol Bay were camped out this week to await a decision by EPA, carrying signs that read, "Salmon first, Pebble never!" according to local news.
The Obama administration had denied the mine a permit for years, dragging out an environmental review that ultimately led to a lawsuit in 2014 brought by the mining firm there.
Today's agreement between EPA and the Pebble Limited Partnership stands to resolve that litigation. The settlement allows the mining operation to apply for a Clean Water Act permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. EPA would then begin the process of determining how much mining material can be disposed of from the Pebble Mine, according to EPA.
The settlement will now have to be sent to the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska to be codified. The EPA and Justice Department are asking that the court "dismiss the cases with prejudice and to lift the court-ordered preliminary injunction."
EPA will not move to finalize a permit for the mine until 48 months from settlement, "or until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues its final environmental impact statement, whichever comes first." It recommends that the mine operators file their permit application within 30 months.
During that period, the mining company will drop all lawsuits against EPA.