A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decision to extend its decision on whether to finalize proposed restrictions on the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska until Dec. 2 is prompting further
comment from mine proponents and opponents alike.
The EPA explained that giving the agency until the new date would allow more time for full consideration of an extensive administrative record, including thousands of public comments, for which the deadline was Tuesday, Sept. 6.
The Pebble Partnership, a subsidiary of the global mining firm Hunter Dickinson in Vancouver, Canada, has maintained that the mine can be safely built and operated adjacent to the Bristol Bay watershed, famed as the home of the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon. The mining firm also touts the importance of jobs it would bring to this area of rural Alaska and the economic benefit to the region and state.
Opponents, including commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen, environmentalists and a number of business entities, have opposed the mine, citing potential extremely adverse impacts on salmon habitat, from toxic substances getting into salmon habitat, as well as a mine plan that would destroy many miles of streambeds that are salmon spawning grounds.
John Shively, chief executive officer of the Pebble Partnership, issued a statement on Sept. 7 saying comments that the company filed “clearly show there is absolutely no justification for the EPA’s actions against the Pebble project. There is no justification for EPA’s proposed veto of discharges of dredged or fill material from the mine into federal waters within the mine site footprint,” he said. He added that the EPA’s proposed veto is legally environmentally and technically unsupported and flies in the face of decades of regulatory precedent for fair and due process for development projects in Alaska.
Shively contends that the EPA has “made wildly speculative claims about possible adverse impacts from Pebble’s development that are not supported by any defensible data” and are in direct contradiction with the facts demonstrated in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ final environmental impact statement for the project.
The proposed veto under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act would preemptively cover 309 square miles of the state, an area 66 times larger than any previous 404 veto, he said.
The Bristol Bay Defense Fund and other mine opponents meanwhile support finalizing 404(c) Clean Water Act protections for the region before year’s end.
“Tribal members, commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, conservation advocates, chefs, investors, businesses, faith-based groups and others have raised their voices nearly four million times to urge the EPA to protect the Bay from the environmental threats of such a mine,” they said.
“While thousands of fishermen and processing workers were working hard to deliver a record breaking 59.5 million wild sockeye salmon to the market this summer, we also made the time to submit comments to the EPA on its proposed determination for the Bristol Bay region, said Katherine Carscallen, executive director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. “This pristine watershed has allowed us to feed the world, but as long as we are threatened by Pebble mine, our industry suffers,” she said. “We cannot allow one more fishing season to pass with the Pebble mine looming over our heads.”
The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association was among those pressing the EPA to take final action to protect the watershed from what they see as dire environmental impacts from the mine. The BBRSDA’s comments contend that the proposed mine would create existential risks to the commercial fishery’s economic viability if sockeye salmon were to lose their price premium versus farmed salmon due to decreased consumer demand.
United Fishermen of Alaska, the statewide umbrella group of commercial fishing organizations in the state, and Pacific Seafood Processors Association in Seattle also support invoking Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act in a Proposed Determination for the Bristol Bay watershed and steps for a final determination.