EPA Initiates Clean Water Act in Pebble Mine Controversy

Federal officials have initiated action under the Clean Water Act to protect the Bristol Bay salmon fishery in advance of development of a proposed massive open pit copper, gold and molybdenum mine in Southwest Alaska.

That decision this past week drew accolades from fish harvesters, environmentalists and others opposed to the Pebble mine and criticism from advocates, including miners and Alaska’s congressional delegation.

“There is no doubt that Bristol Bay’s salmon resource and its commercial fishing industry are a national treasure,” said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “EPA’s twice peer-reviewed scientific study confirms this. It is not possible to place one of the world’s largest mines atop the world’s most valuable wild salmon fishery without devastating consequences.”

Waldrop said commercial fishermen welcome the initiation of this Section 404 (C) process under the Clean Water Act to allow for additional public discussion on whether such a mine is appropriate in this region.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, also applauded what she sees as action to protect Northwest fishing jobs. “Washington and Alaska fishermen depend on Bristol Bay for their livelihoods,” Cantwell said. “Wild salmon populations already face a number of threats,” Cantwell said. “Adding mining pollution to the spawning ground for the world’s number one sockeye salmon fishery doesn’t make economic sense.”

Alaska’s congressional delegation meanwhile criticized what they see as federal overreach into Alaska land decisions.

“For the EPA to preemptively oppose a project located entirely on state land, a project already subject to a rigorous state permitting process, is a serious threat to any future projects on state of Alaska, Alaska Native, or even individually owned private land,” said Rep Don Young, R-Alaska.

The Pebble Limited Partnership in Anchorage also responded quickly to the EPA’s announcement, saying the EPA’s actions reflect a major overreach onto an asset of the state of Alaska. Ron Thiessen, president and chief executive officer of Northern Dynasty Minerals, the Canadian firm behind the PLP, said his company remains confident that final decisions about Pebble would come by working within the rigorous National Environmental Policy Act permitting process.

The EPA’s announcement on initiating the Clean Water Act is online at http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/596e17d7cac720848525781f0043629e/097dc6e31131100385257c8d0058f74d!OpenDocument