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36 people Dead as California's Wine Country Burns; Wind, High Temperatures Work Against Firefighters; Boy, 14, Killed While Fleeing California Fire; Gloria Allred Talks Harvey Weinstein Scandal; Las Vegas Shooting Timeline Changes Again; ; Is Trump's Dismantling of Obama's Legacy Personal; EPA Reversed Salmon Protection After Mining CEO Meeting. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired October 14, 2017 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:05] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: It's 3:00 in the afternoon here in New York. Noon in Santa Rosa, California. I'm Ana Cabrera. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

An enormous sparling part of northern California looks like this today. It is a nightmare. Wildfires, several separate wildfires, all burning at the same time. It's not just huge forests going up in the flames. There's a terrible human toll. At least 36 people are dead. Many, many others are missing. Their whereabouts unknown. And the worst news, firefighters say they're not even close to getting this disaster under control.

This is Santa Rosa, California, where entire neighborhoods are gone from the map. In the past few days, nearly 3,000 homes have burned to the ground. A new fire that erupted yesterday forced officials to order thousands of people to leave their homes or risk their lives if they stay.

Watch these courageous sheriff's deputies going door to door in Sonoma County as they try to get people to safety.




UNIDENTIFIED SHERIFF'S DEPUTY: Come on. Screw your shoe. Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But she's disabled.

UNIDENTIFIED SHERIFF'S DEPUTY: All right. Let me get her feet. Let me get her feet.

Your husband's right behind you.

Sheriff, we're doing a carry out.


Hold up. Hold up. Hold up. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: The biggest fire is in Napa and Sonoma Counties, the heart of California's wine country. That's where 50,000 acres have burned so far. In all, 17 separate fires are burning. And 36 people are dead. More than 200 unaccounted for, and 220,000 acres are destroyed. California emergency officials expanded the red-flag warning to impact about 20 million people. That's the highest alert issue, meaning conditions are dry and windy that the slightest spark could trigger a major fire.

Let's get out to Sonoma County, California, right now. CNN's Miguel Marquez is there.

Miguel, right now, thousands of people are under emergency evacuations orders right there in Santa Rosa. Are people following the orders?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are. We're in that area where the new evacuation orders have gone into effect. They extend some of the orders to the city of Sonoma, about 10 or 12 miles south of where we are right now.

I want to show you what's happening. This feels a bit like the fire's last stand. The red-flag warning is going for another four or five hours. The planes, helicopters, ground troops, or firefighters, and bulldozers all working this area very hard. Several different fires have come together here. Just down this way, where you're looking right now, that's towards Santa Rosa. You can see the helicopters there. They have been very, very intimate with the fire. They have been moving into a small area where there's water and very quickly dumping it right on the fire within a half mile of where they are picking up water. Just an incredible effort by firefighters here. Thousands have poured into this area. They expect at 5:00 p.m. pacific time, 8:00 eastern, that the red-flag warnings that high winds, low humidity, high temperature, that will be the last of it or the worst of it. The winds have already started to come down just a bit. They think they may be getting a hold of this.

I've never seen as mump air traffic on a fire like this. DC-10s, several large air tankers, jet air tankers are here and also prop air tankers as well as helicopters and thousands of firefighters. Never seen anything like it. They are working hard to make sure this fire doesn't move into new neighborhoods -- Ana?

CABRERA: On that note, what are you hearing about the size and the direction of fires, and how many people are in very real danger right now?

MARQUEZ: It's burning at the moment in this area, it's burning out in wild lands. That's where they'd like to keep it. They don't want it to move any farther towards the neighborhoods. That's they've had the evacuations here. They think with the number of resources that they have on it that they can keep it in that area as long as the winds cooperate which they seem to be doing. It won't go any further. They are not taking any chances. Clearly, thousands of firefighters and planes and helicopters and bulldozers and everything on this piece of the fire right now -- Ana?

CABRERA: Glad to see you staying far away, staying safe.

Miguel Marquez, thanks for that update.

Weather conditions make all the difference in the world to firefighters trying to control these deadly wildfires. The wind and high temps are still working against them.

And Meteorologists Allison Chinchar is in CNN's Severe Weather Center tracking the latest -- Allison?

[15:04:46] ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Ana, the firefighters were able to make such advancements in the containment going from 10 percent earlier this week to 40 percent on Friday. But the concern is that may be reduced quickly due to the strong winds that began overnight last night. We have the red-flag warnings in effect not just for northern California, but also southern California. Some of those wind gusts upwards of 60 miles per hour.

The good news is the winds are expected to die back down as we go through the evening hours, and especially overnight tonight. Air quality is still expected to be unhealthy, not just in San Francisco but farther north into the wine country region.

One thing that's going to be a concern for firefighters is the fact that temperatures are also going to increase, especially by Monday. Some of these locations are looking at 10 to 15 degrees above average. That will hinder the firefighters in being able to fight fires as well.

We had so much rain in the winter and spring. This is a map of April 2017 showing the rain they got. It fills the lakes, reservoirs. It's great for agriculture and great new for vegetation, but the vegetation dries out in the summer months and, thus, becomes fuel for a lot of those fires that we have right now. Ana, what that means is you have more of that new vegetation help fueling the fires now than you would have had in the past few years when we had severe drought.

CABRERA: Terrible situation.

Allison Chinchar, thank you.

Now joining us, Deputy Chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Scott McLean. He is on the phone with us

Scott, you are at the base camp area where fire crews are being dispatched and firefighters are returning after their shifts.

What can you tell us about the conditions and the challenges your crews are facing right now?

SCOTT MCLEAN, DEPUTY CHIEF, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION (via telephone): Well, a couple of different things I'd like to discuss. We had another fire break out early this morning around 4:00 called the Long Fire. It's several miles to our north, but it's about a hundred acres. They have stopped the forward spread. That's in the middle of the night. That's how quick and easy these fires are starting.

The Nuns Fire, in the middle of the complex we're working on right now actually did grow in size. We had some evacuations at 3:30 this morning just north of the fire where it came across the line towards Highway 12 and displaced several people.

Down below, in the same fire, the Nuns Fire, on the southwest side, we had about 300-plus acres. That was this morning. I haven't gotten any recent updates of that. It skirted around the community of Sonoma. This is 3:00, 3:30 in the morning when it was really cold. It was probably like 40 degrees this morning.

CABRERA: Wow. These new fires are still sparking at that time.

The stories we're hearing are absolutely terrifying. They are heartbreaking about people burning alive, trying to escape, driving off roads because the smoke is so thick. Dozens of people have lost their lives in these many fires that are across southern California. But why do you think there were so many people unable to escape?

MCLEAN: Let's go back to the Tubbs Fire. This is the fire that went to directly in a southwest direction to the community of Mariposa. The first was pushed by 60-plus mile per hour winds. Ahead of the firefighters constantly. They were trying to take care of it, trying to get ahead of it. It turned out that due to the speed of this fire and the amount of fuel ahead of it, they went into the rescue mode and safety mode of personnel out front. That's what they did. They are extremely heroic. It got closer to Santa Rosa. Then all parts became a concern due to the community it was entering. Unfortunately, this is one of those areas where a lot of lives were lost. We're up to 35 in the state, 17 at the Tubbs Fire

CABRERA: So sorry to hear. We see this video from one of the firefighter's body camera. It really is a sight to see and to realize it's hard for them to see what they are doing as they try to make these rescues. It must have been so scary for people also trying to get out.

We also know that there are thousands of homes damaged. You mentioned that there were 3,000 damaged in just one of those fires.

MCLEAN: Right.

CABRERA: But across the state, more than 5,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed. Do you have any crew members that have lost their homes?

MCLEAN: Yes. There are several public safety individuals whose homes have been destroyed. My sister was evacuated on the other side of the state. A friend of mine, works with me on the public section, his home was destroyed. He has a 9-year-old daughter. So it's affecting all of us.

CABRERA: I'm so sorry to hear. Thank you for taking the time to give us an update on the situation.

Best of luck to you and your fire crews. And god speed. Thanks, again.

All right, Deputy Fire Chief Scott McLean there.

There are dozens of gut-wrenching stories emerging from the fire zone. Fourteen-year-old Ky Sheppard is among the youngest victims. He died in his driveway while trying to evacuate with his parents and sister.

Reporter, Macy Jenkins, from our affiliate, KMAS (ph), spoke with Ky's aunt.


[15:10:26] MINDY RAMOS, AUNT OF KY SHEPPARD: I wish I had hugged him a lot more times.

MACY JENKINS, REPORTER, KMAS (ph) (voice-over): A family of four spent the last two years living in their dream home in Redwood Valley, a dream consumed by fire early Monday morning.

RAMOS: We had no thought in our minds that they would be hurt by this fire. We thought they were just coming down the mountain.

JENKINS: Denise and Simon Ramos got a call at 1:00 a.m. from their daughter, Sarah Sheppard, saying fire was nearby and they were about to evacuate.

RAMOS: They thought they had plenty of time to get down and we were waiting to hear from them.

JENKINS: But Sarah's sister, Mindy Ramos, said the family never got a second call.

RAMOS: Then it took some time to piece together what happened up there.

JENKINS: Four hours after Sarah called her family, a neighbor, named Paul Hanson, found the mother of two and her 17-year-old daughter, Cressa, in the driveway, incoherent and barely conscious.

RAMOS: Both she and my sister have burns on 60 percent of their beside.

JENKINS: Paul ran towards the house to get them water.

RAMOS: About 30 feet down the driveway.

JENKINS: That's where he found 14-year-old Ky, lifeless on the ground.

RAMOS: When I got the call about Ky, I couldn't stand. I fell to my knees and I just said, oh, no.

JENKINS: Mindy found out later Sarah and her husband John were driving away with the kids when both of their cars caught on fire. They jumped out, scattered and lost sight of one another.

John is still sedated in a San Francisco hospital and, in an attempt to save her life, Cressa lost both of her legs in surgery.


JENKINS: Mindy said she is not ready to tell her big sister that her baby boy didn't survive.

RAMOS: I can't imagine waking up to worst news than my sister is going to wake up to.

JENKINS: Mindy is blown away by the support from her community so far, but notes the Sheppards' fight for survival is far from over.

RAMOS: I have my life and I have my family. So all I can do right now is use all of this strength and all the -- everything I've been through up until this moment to be here for my family.


CABRERA: What a story. Mindy will be joining us in our next hour to talk more about her family, her nephew, who has lost, and the road ahead for all of them.

Still ahead this hour, awaiting his fate. Disgraced Mogul Harvey Weinstein's future is being decided as we speak. Will the Academy of Motion Pictures strip him of his membership or take away his Oscar? Gloria Allred, the attorney representing several of his accusers, joins me live, next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[15:17:10] CABRERA: Right now, Harvey Weinstein's future is being decided. The Academy of Motion Pictures Acts and Science, which has honored Weinstein with an Oscar, is deciding whether he's remain a member of that group. Some are asking whether the Academy will go a step further and take back his Oscar. We'll bring you the outcome of their vote just as soon as we have it.

In the meantime, I want to talk more about this with women's right attorney, Gloria Allred, who is representing a number of Weinstein's accusers.

Gloria, I want to start with some of the legal information we're getting. We understand that there is a London investigation, New York police are also investigating allegations of sexual assault against Weinstein. Do you think we could still see criminal charges?

GLORIA ALLRED, ATTORNEY FOR ACCUSERS: I think that's very possible, although I don't know whether it's probable. It's going to be important for law enforcement to investigate whether or not they believe there's sufficient evidence to conclude that crimes were committed in their jurisdiction, in New York, in London. I will just say, while I will not identify any accusers that I represent other than Louisa Wright (ph), that, in fact, I have been contacted by persons who allege they were victims of Mr. Weinstein in London and in New York. We'll have to see where that goes.

Again, the district attorney in New York and any prosecutors in London would have to be sure that there was sufficient evidence before they file a case or if they decide to file a case against such a high- profile figure.

CABRERA: How many of these accusers have contacted you?

ALLRED: Numerous. I have not stopped to count. I was on the phone yesterday, Thursday. I have calls scheduled for later today, for all day tomorrow with numerous persons contacting me from all over the world. Not just in the United States. We want to screen everyone very carefully. Really think about if there's way we can help them.

And I think it's important there be justice for victims or persons who can prove they were victims. Because this is not just about Mr. Weinstein. This is about allegations of sexual harassment that, if proven, we would be able to show there was real harm to persons who allege they were victims, financially, socially, emotionally. These are somebody's daughters, mothers, sister.


ALLRED: This is wrong. And we're going to look carefully at what evidence exists.

[15:19:58] CABRERA: We do want to point out that Weinstein does say that some of these accusations, those who have named names, who have publicly come forward, and he says it was consensual, there was a consensual relationship between the two.

Meantime, I want to ask, Gloria, because I know you have said prior to the number of accusers, who you may be speaking with now, that the statute of limitations had expired in a lot of those cases. What would be the legal goal for you?

ALLRED: That's very important. The statute of limitations is the arbitrary time period set by law during which claim or lawsuit must be brought or the person who is alleging she has been harmed is forever barred or preventing from ever proceeding with a lawsuit. In other words, it can be filed but the defendant can have it dismissed. It's different in every state. It's different in other countries. We're exploring that very carefully, because we want to see whether they have legal claims they can assert, and advise them accordingly.

In addition, Ana, I have sent a letter to the board of directors of the Weinstein Company, and they acknowledged to me yesterday that they received the letter yesterday in New York, in which I have requested a meeting as soon as possible with the board of directors of the Weinstein Company. Because they have indicated in a prior statement, Ana, that they also want to make sure that there is justice for persons who allegedly are victims of Mr. Weinstein, and we want to assure that there is justice for them. And that's why we want to meet with them as soon as possible and we will have some creative options to suggest to them so that we can work together for justice for these alleged victims.

CABRERA: What does justice look like if the statute of limitations has expired and there isn't a legal path forward?

ALLRED: Well, again, we like to be creative lawyers. After 42 years, I think we're going to have some ideas and we can think outside the box as well as inside the box. We want to propose our suggestions face-to-face with Mr. Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, and the other members of the board in New York or in Los Angeles as soon as we can do that. And we'd like to share what we have in mind, and after we share it with them, have a conversation about how we can protect and assist and vindicate and compensate these persons who are accusing Mr. Weinstein, then we'll see about whether we can share our ideas with the public. But we need to have this meeting as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.

CABRERA: We know that there's some power in being able to speak out. I know there's only one other accuser who has contacted you who has felt comfortably speaking publicly. We would love to share their stories because it's important to shed light on this broader issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

So, Gloria Allred, I hope we can keep in touch. Please know that there's an open invitation to come on to speak with us as this story continues to develop.

ALLRED: Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

CABRERA: Thank you. Thank you, Gloria.

Meantime, we're are having some new information coming into the NEWSROOM about the Las Vegas massacre. New details on the timeline of the event at the hotel and how the shooters specifically targeted law enforcement.

Stay with us. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[15:28:03] CABRERA: The timeline for the worst mass shooting in American history has changed again. We now have a clearer picture of what happened when a gunman opened fire on concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. Vegas police now say very little time passed after the gunman shot a Mandalay Bay security guard and fired into the unsuspecting crowd, killing 58 innocent people and injuring some 500 others.

Our Brian Todd joins us with more on how the complexity of this mass murder case has impacted the investigation -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, the latest timeline finally has police on the same page with the Mandalay Bay Hotel on when the shooter opened fire on a security guard who encountered him. There's new information on how the gunman specifically targeted law enforcement officers.

The sheriff delivering the news as he appeared before reporters looking completely drained.


TODD (voice-over): In an emotional and, at times, combative news conference today, the Las Vegas sheriff, once again, revised his story on how the Las Vegas massacre went down, defending his previous timeline as the result of a complex investigation, and not incompetence.

JOE LOMBARDO, SHERIFF, LAS VEGAS METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: The word "incompetent" has been brought forward. And I'm absolutely offended with that characterization. This is a very dynamic event. A very big event. Thousands of people involved. Humans involved in documentation.

TODD: Police now say they believe hotel security guard, Jesus Campos, happened upon Stephen Paddock around the same time Paddock began shooting on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on October 1st. Not six minutes before it began, as the sheriff said on Monday.

LOMBARDO: Mr. Campos received his wounds in close proximity to 2205.

[15:30:00] TODD (voice-over): The sheriff's revised timeline, once again, suggests Campos' encounter with the shooter may have led police to Paddock much sooner. That's because Campos had tried to enter the 32nd floor from the stairwell next to the shooter's room, police now say, only to find it had been barricaded.

JOE LOMBARDO, SHERIFF, LAS VEGAS METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: He had screwed shut the door with a piece of metal and some screws.


LOMBARDO: In the stairwell, going up to the hallway right by his door.

So he knew we would be coming out the door to gain entry into his door. So he tried to barricade it as best he could.

TODD: Police say Campos was forced to take another route to the 32nd floor and that, once in the hallway, the shooter opened fire.

Also, tonight, new information from the sheriff on Paddock's tactics. He says, at one point, the killer turned his guns away from concertgoers when he saw police arriving.

LOMBARDO: It's readily apparent to me that he adjusted his fire and directed it towards the police vehicles.

TODD: With tears welling in his eyes --

LOMBARDO: Excuse me. I'm emotional.

TODD: -- the sheriff said his officers rushed to the scene and were trying to save lives. He visited some of those officers this week.

LOMBARDO: Our brave sustained four separate gunshot wounds. The reason why I bring this one up, he asked me if he could go back to work today.

TODD: Tonight, the biggest mystery surrounding the worst mass shooting in modern-American history continues to swirl.

ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: To me, the biggest mystery is the motive. It's very odd that we don't know why. When we look at not just mass shooting but anything, we generally know what the motive is fairly quickly. The mystery, to me, is that here we are almost two weeks out and we have no idea why this guy did this.

I think he didn't want us to know the motive. Otherwise, we would have found it out by now.


TODD (on camera): But investigators are still doggedly trying to piece all of that together. The sheriff saying, they are trying to establish a timeline of Stephen Paddock's life and everyone he was ever associated with -- Ana?

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Brian Todd, thank you.

President Trump taking big steps to dismantle some of the biggest accomplishments of President Obama, from health care to the Iran nuclear deal. Is it personal? We'll talk about it in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[15:36:16] CABRERA: President Trump has been steadily chipping away at Obama's legacy since taking office. This week, he pretty much picked up a sledge hammer. First, the president dealt a possibly deadly blow to Obamacare, announcing he would no longer pay subsidies to insurers. These subsidies are what has helped low-income Americans be able to afford insurance. Then, less than 24 hours later, the president announced he was decertifying the Iran nuclear deal, something his own cabinet advised him not to do. These are the two latest policies of Obama's legal President Trump has taken aim at. But they are not the only ones. He's also gone after the Paris climate agreement, TPP, DACA, transgenders servicemembers and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Let's get more perspective on what this means. Let's talk to CNN presidential historian, Tim Naftali, who is joining us now.

Tim, when you look at that list, do you get the sense that Trump's agenda is to dismantle Obama's legacy?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENIAL HISTORIAN: It seems very personal, doesn't it?

CABRERA: It does seem personal. NAFTALI: Here is a difference between a negative vision and a

positive vision. Ronald Reagan came in with a positive vision. You may not have like it, but it was definitely a vision. The Reagan Revolution was based on a set of principles and a set of objectives. Donald Trump comes into office promising a revolution. But his revolution is totally disruptive.

CABRERA: But isn't that what people voted for? They liked he was a disrupter.

NAFTALI: Here's the thing. This is where the discussion may go, and should go. We should stop talking about the Obama legacy and talk about what the policy objectives were of the two main policies you just mentioned. Health care. Is the Trump approach going to guarantee coverage for people with pre-existing conditions? Is it going to guarantee coverage for people under the age of 27? And is it going to ensure that we don't have 25 million uninsured Americans.

Number two, is the Trump approach going to ensure that Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon?

On both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats agree that Iran should be prevented from getting nuclear weapons. What the president ought to do, rather than focusing on Obama, is tell us why this particular approach, moving outside a multilateral framework, is a better way of deterring Iran pap That's what he should be doing. It's too late for him to say this is better than Obama. Obama's gone. Obama is not the president of the United States anymore. Donald Trump is. Please explain to us how your approaches will deliver those two promises.

CABRERA: Is there any parallel in history where we have seen somebody do something similar and it's worked out pretty well?

NAFTALI: Where they have been totally negative without having anything to replace it?

CABRERA: Where they've come in and taken away what their predecessor did --


CABRERA: -- and implemented new approaches?

NAFTALI: Implementing new approaches can work. Again, I go back to Ronald Reagan. There's a sense of time Mr. Trump wishes to be Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan put forward a revolution, and when he got to washington, he realized that some of the things he thought about washington were wrong. He undertook some course corrections. Ronald Reagan increased taxes over 20 times. He called them revenue enhancements. He changed his policy toward the soviets. He did it well. He explained how he was doing it. He didn't always say he was changing his mind, but he engaged in corrections when he felt it necessary. That's the difference between a leader and someone who comes in just wanting to dismantle what was there without putting anything in place to replace it. That's the test for Congress. This week, next week, the week after, Congress has to ask the president, forget about Obama. Tell us how this approach will ensure that Iran doesn't get nuclear weapons. Tell us how that approach ensures our intelligence service has the access they have now to the nuclear --


[15:40:26] CABRERA: Because of the way our democracy is set up, the ball is in Congress's court, where they don't have to ask the questions. They can come up with the answers with the solution. That's how the president has made it.

I wish we had more time in the segment to discuss where we go from here but, Tim, unfortunately, we don't. Next time --

NAFTALI: Next time.

CABRERA: -- when we come back.

Tim, thank you.

NAFTALI: Thank you.

CABRERA: Thank you so much for joining us.

One of the world's most pristine wild salmon fisheries is facing what critics call a toxic threat and it's all because of action taken by the head of the Environmental Protection Agency right after he met with a mining executive. Up next, an exclusive CNN investigation.


[15:45:28] CABRERA: The list of controversial moves by Trump's EPA administrator is growing. Climate change is no longer a part of the agency's four-year strategic plan. There's no mention of climate change, carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas emissions in the plan, which was recently released. EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, also moved this week to rescind the Obama-era Clean Power Plant.

And we have new exclusive reporting about a proposal to remove clean water protections in Alaska, a move made just after Pruitt met with a mining company executive.

CNN's chief investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, uncovered details on how it happened.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The meeting at EPA headquarters was brief and to the point. By the time it ended, a mining company hoping to dig for gold and copper got just what it wanted.

On Monday, May 1st, the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership asked newly appointed EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, to withdraw environmental restrictions on Alaska's Bristol Bay. They were put there by the Obama administration to stop the company from building a massive mine. Pruitt quickly agreed. At 10:36 a.m. eastern, little more than an hour after Pruitt met with the mining CEO, EPA staffers were shocked to receive this e-mail, obtained exclusively by CNN, that says, "We have been directed by the administrator to withdraw restrictions." The proposed protection of that pristine area was being removed.

Pruitt opened the door for what the EPA feared could become one of the largest open-pit mines in the world in an extremely sensitive watershed in wild Alaska.

What's more, according to multiple sources, he made the decision without a briefing from any of EPA's scientists or experts.


GRIFFIN: For the Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier, it was a huge win and it comes with new apologies.

(on camera): Do you think it was not wrong that Mr. Pruitt did not look at what the work had been done?

COLLIER: Not a science decision. It's a process decision.

GRIFFIN: The optics on this look --


COLLIER: The optics on this are right. They don't look bad.

GRIFFIN: This looks like a head of a gold mine --


GRIFFIN: -- went to a new administrator and got him to reverse what an entire department had worked on for years.

COLLIER: Then put your glasses back on. You're not seeing the right optics.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The Obama EPA protection, detailed in hundreds of pages of reports, is called a Clean Water Act designation. So rare, it's only happened like this one other time in the EPA's history. It was put on Bristol Bay, Alaska, specifically to stop Pebble mine before the owners applied for a permit. The mining company sued the EPA, saying it wasn't treated fairly.

The same morning Pruitt met with mining company, he agreed to settle that lawsuit as well.

To understand the significance of Pruitt's decisions that day, you must first understand why the protection was placed on Bristol Bay in the first place. Bristol Bay and its tributaries are home to one of the world's largest and most pristine salmon fisheries. Roughly half the world's wild sock eye salmon come from here. This watershed is among the last places on earth like this, an intact ecosystem supporting 50 million wild salmon, part of life or indigenous cultures that stretch back 4,000 years.

In 2011, Pebble Partnership's owner, Canadian mining company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, filed a mine-building assessment with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The mine could potentially create a footprint bigger than the island of Manhattan and nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon, according to the EPA.

Alarm bells went off. Local tribes and fisheries asked the EPA to study the impacts a mine that big could have. After a three-year study, the EPA published a report showing pollution from the mine would result in complete loss of fish habitat, with the potential to destroy 94 miles of streams and tributaries and an additional 4900 acres above Bristol Bay. The EPA said all these losses would be irreplaceable.

The fishing industry here employs 14,000 people. No one knows how many jobs would be loss if the fish vanished.

[15:50:07] THOMAS QUINN, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON: It is a uniquely bad place, geologically, to put this kind of thing. Protecting it works and patching it afterwards does not work.

GRIFFIN: One of the scientists whose work was used in the study is Thomas Quinn, a professor at the University of Washington. He has studied the area for 30 years.

QUINN: This is the jewel in the crown of America's fishery resources and salmon. If you don't think this is worth saving, what is? If you don't think there is danger in this, you have not looked at it carefully.

GRIFFIN (on camera): According to several EPA insiders, a briefing book is being prepared for Scott Pruitt wasn't even finished when Pruitt had made his decision. The scientists never got the chance to brief the administrator. Unbeknownst to many at the EPA, lobbyists for the mine had already been lobbying to overturn their work, lobbying Trump's EPA transition team even before Scott Pruitt was sworn in.

(on camera): It sounds like you do have a friend at the administration. After a half hour, without looking at the science, he says, yes, we'll remove this.

COLLIER: So the premise of your question offends me.

GRIFFIN: Because?

COLLIER: Because I don't have a friend at EPA. What I got is somebody that's following the damn law for the first time. OK? That's not a friend. The issue was not a scientific issue. The issue was a due-process issue.

GRIFFIN: Former EPA director, Gina McCarthy, disputes that, saying the clean water protection was based on science, decades of scientific research, and years of study and public comment through the EPA due process. It's why she officially approved the protection. Like many at the EPA, she is stunned at all could be so easily undone of a bidding of a mining company.

GINA MCCARTHY, FORMER EPA DIRECTOR: This was not about EPA taking an extraordinary proactive step in its own. It was about using the tools to provide certainties to those Alaskan natives and all the people who rely on those resources for their jobs and economy. And we would be protective of the ecological resource.

GRIFFIN (on camera): By our reporting, it took one election and one- half hour meeting to overturn everything you did.

MCCARTHY: Well, well, I spent a lot more time on it than that. It was -- it is a very decision, and one that deserves really thoughtful discussion between the career and political staff.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Scott Pruitt declined CNN's request for an interview.

But in a statement, the EPA spokesperson tells CNN, "The meeting with the mining company was an opportunity for Administrator Pruitt to let the Pebble Limited Partnership know that they are simply being granted a fair opportunity to apply to build the mine." And adds, "Scott Pruitt did not prejudge the outcome of the process, nor make any assurances about the final decision." The statement goes on to day, "EPA's review will be based on the whole record, all the science, and a natural proposal from the company.

(on camera): He made that decision after a half hour meeting with the head of guy who wants to mine gold in an area that many scientists believe will destroy one of the pristine sock eye salmon spawning grounds in the whole world. What am I missing?

COLLIER: What you are missing is, if they are right, then we won't get a permit.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Pebble, last week, posted this document on its web site touting a new path forward, saying the mine will be much smaller, have less impact, and its policy is to work in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

(on camera): You know mining is a dirty business, no matter how you get around it.

COLLIER: I don't buy that for a second.

GRIFFIN: Are you telling me you will be able to put clean mine up there that's going to have no effect?

COLLIER: Absolutely.


COLLIER: Exactly.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): And if they get the permit and the mine gets built - QUINN: I find that a horrifying aspect. Take the place in the world that you know best and you value most, the most beautiful and productive and special place you can conceive, the most devastating thing that you can do to that place. You will be as horrified just as I am.

GRIFFIN: Ana, this story has created outrage both in Congress and Alaska itself. Several members of Congress and the U.S. Senate are demanding answers from the EPA, wanting to know how this decision was made. And up in Alaska, they are wrapping up two days of public hearings and protests.

As of right now, it seems like this decision will stand and this mine, once thought too environmentally dangerous even to propose being built, is going to get a chance for a permit and, potentially, be developed -- Ana?


[15:55:12] CABRERA: Drew Griffin, thank you for that report.

Straight ahead, more than a dozen wildfires burning out of control in California. The weather today less than forgiving. The latest. Live to Santa Rosa, next.


CABRERA: Despite the current controversy surrounding football, the passion that millions of Americans have for the national past times still runs deep. This week of "CNN Hero" is sharing that love of the game for kids who don't get to experience the excitement of the gridiron firsthand. Meet, Blake Rockwell.


BLAKE ROCKWELL, CNN HERO: When you have a child, who's dealing with a life-threatening illness, their treatment protocol might be two, three years. And they're paint starts to go dry.