EPA’s Revised Proposed Determination Scrutinized

Bristol Bay watershed
A map of the Bristol Bay watershed, which the proposed Pebble Mine project would abut. Image: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Proponents and opponents of the proposed Pebble mine project converged on the cities of Dillingham and Newhalen, and virtually in Southwest Alaska this past week to testify on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s revised proposed determination regarding a Clean Water Act permit, which they see as a long term way to stop construction of the mine.

Their testimony came as fishermen and seafood processing workers headed for Bristol Bay to harvest and process the millions of red salmon forecast to return to the Bay in 2022.

Several dozen opponents of the large-scale copper, gold and molybdenum mine turned out at the Dillingham hearing to testify. Mine boosters, including John Shively, chief executive officer of the Pebble Partnership, testified at Newhalen, contending that such action would block the project and any future projects at that site, a step they see as a violation of the Alaska Statehood Act and the Alaska National interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.

“The people of Bristol Bay have been clear for decades: the EPA must protect our lands and waters for future generations,” said Alannah Hurley executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, whose members include commercial fishermen.

“No version of Pebble belongs in Bristol Bay’s headwaters and EPA’s action needs to stop this toxic project once and for all and these protections must be finalized this year,” she said.

The revised proposed determination would restrict development of the deposit at certain levels.

The project’s developer, the Pebble Partnership, has asked the EPA to extend the comment period for what it considers to be adequate time to prepare detailed technical and legal comments about many issues the mining company see with the revised proposed determination.

The developer contends that there are deficiencies in the proposed document and the process, including that it fails to include anything about the economic contribution the mine could bring to the area.

“The EPA’s document is full of speculation, innuendo and light on facts,” the Partnership said in a statement. “It is worth noting that what the EPA proposes to do is to preemptively block any development on 309 square miles of state of Alaska land, land specifically selected by the state for its mineral potential.”

Bristol Bay commercial and subsistence harvesters, tribal entities and sport lodge owners have a difference perspective.

“The Bristol Bay fishery is the largest red salmon run in the world,” veteran harvester Mark Niver told the EPA at the Dillingham hearing. “This year we’re gonna top over 70 million salmon, and this will continue if we just leave the watershed alone.”

Bear Trail Lodge owner Nanci Morris said her lodge is one of nearly 100 lodges and outfitters that generate $155 million in economic output every year, and that she hires guides and other staff locally. “If Pebble mine goes forward I cannot in good conscience pass my lodge along to my kids because I know it will not succeed for them in that environment.”