EPA Withdraws Protections for Bristol Bay

Only four weeks after releasing comments critical of a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on the proposed Pebble mine project, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has withdrawn safeguards critical to the Bristol Bay watershed – the 2014 Proposed Determination issued under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act.

EPA Region 10 administrator Chris Hladick said his agency has worked closely with the US Army Corps of Engineers on the proposed project, resulting in an expansive public record, “including specific information about the proposed mining project that did not exist in 2014.”

EPA Region 10 General Counsel Matthew Leopold said the decision restores “the proper process or 404(c) determinations, eliminating a preemptive veto of a hypothetical mine and focusing EPA’s environmental review on an actual project before the agency.

On July 1, Hladick said in a letter to the Corps that the DEIS “appears to lack certain critical information about the proposed project and mitigation, and there may be aspects of the environmental modeling and impact analysis which would benefit from being corrected, strengthened, or revised. Because of this, the DEIS likely underestimates impacts and risks to groundwater and surface water flows, water quality, wetlands, aquatic resources, and air quality from the Pebble project.”

Mine backers, including the Pebble Limited Partnership in Anchorage, Alaska, and its parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals in Vancouver, British Columbia, thanked Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy for his efforts in getting the proposed determination withdrawn. Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Partnership, said Dunleavy “appears to be fulfilling his pledge to make sure the world knows Alaska is open for business, and supports responsible resource development.”

Mine opponents, including US Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., were angered.

“The Bristol Bay watershed supports fishermen, shipbuilders, suppliers, sportsmen, restaurant and over 50 million salmon that make up a $1.5 billion economy,” Cantwell said. “The Trump administration’s reckless action today threatens our salmon, our maritime economy and the livelihoods of thousands of Washington fishermen.”

Veteran Bristol Bay fisherman Robin Samuelsen of Dillingham was furious.

Speaking on behalf of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, Samuelsen said that the EPA’s decision “reeks of collusion and politics. Even those who are extremely pro-development have raised concerns about the negative impacts of this mine on Bristol Bay. In the face of those concerns, it is shocking that what few protections remain for this region are being further eroded.”