The developer of the proposed Pebble gold and copper mine and the federal agency seeking to block it are asking a federal judge to halt their court battle over the project until March.
Both sides say they want the court case to be put on hold so that they can pursue settlement talks. Neither, though, is ready to talk publicly about how the case might be resolved.
The hold would extend well into the new Trump administration, with a pro-development president and appointees who want to scale back the role of government.
Pebble Limited Partnership sued the Environmental Protection Agency in September 2014 to prevent it from using a novel mechanism to block a mega-mine like that proposed by Pebble at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, home to the biggest remaining wild sockeye salmon runs in the world. In a preliminary injunction that November, U.S. District Judge Russel Holland ordered the EPA to stop work on a Pebble veto until the full merits of the case could be heard.
EPA officials declined to be interviewed on Tuesday. The agency stated its position in an email:
"EPA remains committed to protecting the unique and valuable Bristol Bay fishery and way of life and stands behind the process it has started to ensure protection of the watershed," it said. "The agency remains confident regarding the outcome of the litigation, but is open to alternatives for resolving the dispute, including mediation, which the Alaska court requires parties to consider."
Pebble lawyers filed a notice in U.S. District Court in October that the two sides intended to pursue mediation and were working to select a mediator.
On Friday, both sides said they were still pursing mediation and want litigation to stop until March 20. They have been conferring since early August, the motion filed in court said.
U.S. District Judge Russel Holland hasn't yet ruled on the request to put the case on hold.
Trump's pick to head EPA is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has fought in court to limit what he calls federal overreach.
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Trump has not taken a public position on Pebble, which Bristol Bay fishing interests are fighting. Fishing groups are concerned that such a big mine would damage the habitat that supports world-class salmon runs.
Mike Heatwole, Pebble's vice president of public affairs, said Tuesday that the developers want fair treatment, not special treatment. The project needs many government permissions and developers say it won't be built if it can't be done so safely, without harming fish. They say the project didn't get fair treatment under the Obama administration.
EPA proposed to limit mining in the Bristol Bay watershed. Pebble says that action was improper since developers had not even submitted a mining plan.