State Challenges EPA on Watershed Assessment

The Environmental Protection Agency‘s extensive assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed and potential action that could block development of the massive Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska is being challenged by the state of Alaska.

The EPA undertook the study, which is to be completed by the end of April, at the request of fishermen from the Bristol Bay region.

EPA officials in Region 10 in Seattle say they are preparing a response to the state’s challenge, which was contained in a recent letter from Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty, who argues that the assessment is premature. Geraghty also said in his letter that the EPA lacked authority to be conducting the survey and that this action was in conflict with federal and state laws. The assessment, said Geraghty, goes beyond any process or authority contemplated by the Clean Water Act.

Geraghty said the EPA’s watershed assessment and potential exercise of its 404(C) veto authority in the absence of an actual Section 404 permit application are premature and unprecedented.

“Until an application is filed describing a potential project, EPA will be speculating and prematurely ‘determining’ unavoidable adverse impacts based on hypotheticals and inapplicable modeling, rather than waiting to evaluate real information on specific proposals, as Congress clearly intended,” he said.

Geraghty noted that the state of Alaska selected the land where the mine would be developed for its natural resources potential to provide for the economic welfare of Alaska residents.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, formed in 2007, is co-owned by Northern Dynasty of Vancouver, British Columbia and Anglo American plc. of London.

Backers of the mine continue to maintain that they should be allowed due process in going through the permitting application period. They also maintain that the mine can be developed and operated in harmony with the Bristol Bay environment and its abundant fisheries, while mine opponents say there is great potential for some of the 10.78 billion tons of toxic tailings from the mine to disrupt the fishery.