EPA lifts preemptive barrier to Pebble mine

Just four weeks after releasing comments critical of a draft environmental impact statement on the proposed Pebble mine, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency withdrew Clean Water Act protections for the mine.

EPA Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick on July 30 withdrew the 2014 proposed determination issued under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, a withdrawal of the agency’s option under the Clean Water Act that would allow for a veto of the project.

Hladick, who served as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development under former Gov. Bill Walker, also once served as city manager for Dilingham, in the heart of the Bristol Bay region.

Four weeks earlier, on July 1, the EPA released formal comments critical of the draft EIS. “Due to a lack of certain critical information about the proposed project and mitigation, 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,” Hladick said in a letter to the Alaska District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Anchorage.

Ron Thiessen, president and CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. in Vancouver British Columbia, the parent company of the Pebble Partnership in Anchorage, along with the Pebble Partnership, thanks Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy “for his leadership in encouraging EPA to withdraw its proposed determination.” Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Partnership, also praised Dunleavy, saying that 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 were outraged.

“This decision reeks of collusion and politics,” said Robin Samuelsen, a veteran Bristol Bay fisherman from Dillingham. “Even those who are extremely pro-development have raised concerns about the negative impacts of this mine on Bristol Bay.  It is clear that the Trump and Dunleavy administrations are corrupt as ever and colluding with the mining company directly.”

“EPA’s decision to withdraw the proposed determination for the Bristol Bay watershed is inconsistent with both science and the agency’s core mission of protecting human health and the environment,” said Jason Metrokin president and CEO of the Bristol Bay Native Corp.

Metrokin noted that in early July EPA and multiple other federal and state expert agencies identified numerous deficiencies and data gaps in the USACE’s DEIS for the proposed mine.

“It defies logic that EPA would then take a step backwards and undercut its ability to ensure these deficiencies are properly addressed and Bristol Bay is protected against risks the proposed mine poses to the region, its people and its thriving fishing economy,” Metrokin said.

“This façade of a process by corrupt, politicized agencies has gone on long enough and it’s time for elected leaders to stand up for our people and stop this project from moving forward,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay.

Nelli Williams, Alaska director of Trout Unlimited, called the EPA new decision a foolish one, saying, “It neglects EPA’s responsibility to protect human health and clean water. It ignores science-based criticism of Pebble’s permit review by their own scientists and other agencies, and it is out of touch with the priorities of Alaskans and sportsmen and women,” she said.