DILLINGHAM -- President Barack Obama's top environmental official was visibly moved as people in this fishing town told her the giant Pebble mine would kill wild salmon and destroy their culture.
"You remind why we're all here, what we work for every day and why I am probably the most blessed person in the world to be at EPA at this time," said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.
"I intend to make you proud in the position the president has given me," she said to a standing ovation in the packed gymnasium at a Dillingham school on Tuesday.
McCarthy, confirmed to lead the EPA just last month, visited the Bristol Bay region this week as a nationwide debate grows over the proposed mine. It could be the largest open pit mine in North America and is in a region that produces half the world's wild sockeye salmon.
The proposed gold and copper mine pits people anxious for new jobs against those who say it will destroy streams, wetlands and salmon populations. Mine opponents in Dillingham were exalting at what they saw as McCarthy's sympathy.