EPA Extends Consideration Period for Proposed Pebble Mine

Bristol Bay Native Corp. Board Chair Russell Nelson, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, and BBNC President and CEO Jason Metrokin at the Bristol Bay Wild Salmon Celebration in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of Bristol Bay Native Corp.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has extended its consideration period for proposed restrictions on mining at the proposed Pebble mine site in Southwest Alaska, this time until Dec. 2.

The comment period was originally set to end in July, then continued to early September. While the comment period is now closed, the EPA is giving itself additional time to render a decision.

The crux of the issue is the potential adverse impact of the mine on the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest run of sockeye salmon. The 2022 season was a record breaker for the millions of salmon caught in Bristol Bay, providing thousands of jobs to workers and millions of dollars to the industry and economy of Alaska.

The EPA is currently faced with whether to withdraw proposed restrictions announced earlier this year on discharges from the mine site. It would be owned and operated by the Pebble Partnership, with offices in Anchorage.

The Pebble Partnership is a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., itself a subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson Inc., a diversified global mining company also based in Vancouver.

Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively said in a September statement that the EPA’s proposed veto of Pebble is legally, environmentally and technically unsupportable and politically motivated. Should the EPA finalize such a decision, he said, it would likely be contested in court.

“The EPA should withdraw its actions against Pebble and let the established permitting and review process function as designed,” he said.

Opponents of the mine, including organizations representing commercial fishermen, have continued to urge the EPA to release a Recommended Determination, followed by a Final Determination, providing permanent protections for the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, in a September statement of its own, asked the EPA to finalize Clean Water Act 404(c) protections for the region.

Mine opponents also held a Bristol Bay Wild Salmon Celebration event in Washington, DC in mid-September to draw attention to the bounty from Bristol Bay, with the return of over 78 million salmon to the Bay in 2022. The annual harvest generated over $2.2 billion in annual economic activity across the globe and over 15,000 jobs.

Katherine Carscallen, executive director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, said the watershed has allowed fishermen to feed the world, but that as long as it’s threatened by the Pebble mine, the fishing industry suffers.

“The EPA must take into account the hundreds of thousands of public comments from tribes, fishermen and members of the community and finalize Clean Water Act protections by the end of this year,” she said.