EPA’s release on Friday of its Proposed Determination was the first opportunity for the public to see just how the Agency intends to limit adverse effects from large-scale mining at the Pebble deposit. Reactions to the proposed restrictions were varied, with some lauding the EPA for its efforts, and others arguing that EPA has no authority to impose conditions on development before permitting has begun.
Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM): NDM is now the sole owner of the Pebble deposit, and CEO Ron Thiessen released a statement decrying EPA's use of the 404(c) authority, although he acknowledged that the Agency had held back from a pre-emptive veto of the project, electing instead to impose less-sweeping limitations to development at the mine site. Even so, NDM contends that EPA has no authority to proceed with restrictions before the permitting process has begun - and is in fact suing the Agency over its actions.
Congressional reactions: Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) “blasted the EPA,” according to this report from “The Hill,” saying that the EPA will use this process as a “blueprint” for stopping economic development across the country. Alaska Senator Mark Begich (D) said that the limited scope proposed by the EPA ensured that there would be no repercussions outside of Pebble. He continues to state that Pebble is the "wrong mine in the wrong place."
Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC): BBNC is one of the Native organizations that invited the EPA to Bristol Bay in 2010 to determine how development could impact the area. CEO Jason Metrokin applauded EPA’s recommendations, saying they appear to be “common sense, baseline standards for the Pebble project.” He noted that BBNC shareholders have been concerned about the proposed mine for many years.
Today EPA released a Proposed Determination that details restrictions it is recommending in order to protect the Bristol Bay fishery from adverse effects of large-scale mining of the Pebble deposit.
Here are some highlights of that document, which is open to public review and comment through September 19, 2014.
EPA says developers were unable to prove that there would be no unacceptable effects.
EPA asked Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM), Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) and State of Alaska for information that could prove that no unacceptable effects would occur due to disposal of dredge or fill materials associated with mining the deposit. They submitted information, but it did not convince the EPA.
Proposed mitigation plans are not adequate according to EPA.
Compensatory mitigation efforts proposed by PLP have not typically been effective long-term and are unlikely to offset adverse impacts, according to EPA.
EPA underestimates potential impact.
EPA used a “conservative analysis” when looking at possible negative effects of dredge/fill discharge in the area. EPA’s proposed restrictions are based on adverse effects from construction and routine operation of a 20-year mine (extracting approximately .25 billion tons of ore). EPA notes that adverse impacts would occur with a mine of longer life, and are also likely due to accidents.
EPA selects limited area for restriction.
EPA limited the area in which it is proposing restrictions to the waters within the mine claims “held by NDM subsidiaries, including PLP, that fall within the South Fork Koktuli, North Fork Koktuli, and Upper Talarik Creek Watersheds.”
Proposed restrictions are specific to stream loss and alteration and loss of wetlands, lakes and ponds.
EPA has provided specific numbers in its proposed restrictions. Any discharge of dredge/fill that would lead to the following would be prohibited:
If these restrictions are approved, only a mine plan that meets those restrictions could move forward to permitting.
During the ongoing 404(c) process, no permits can be authorized for large-scale mining at the Pebble deposit. After the 404(c) process is complete -- if restrictions are finalized -- any mine plan would need to fully meet the restrictions in order to proceed to the first stage of the permitting process.
The public can comment through September 19, 2014.
The public is encouraged to comment on the Proposed Determination. There will likely be public meetings in August. Citizens can submit commentary during those meetings or in writing.
Link to public comment. (Specify Docket # EPA-R10-OW-2014-0505.)
Alaska Tribes to Back EPA in Pebble Mine Case (The Hill, July 3, 2014)
The United Tribes of Bristol Bay is seeking to intervene in the lawsuit that Pebble Limited Partnership initiated in May against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is currently seeking to restrict or prohibit large-scale mining at the Pebble deposit in Bristol Bay. The coalition of Alaska Native Tribes will support the EPA in the lawsuit. The State of Alaska had previously filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of the Pebble Limited Partnership.
Judge Asked To Halt EPA Action on Pebble (KTUU, July 2, 2014)
As part of its ongoing lawsuit against the EPA for its use of 404(c) authority under the Clean Water Act, Pebble Limited Partnership has filed a motion asking a federal judge to halt the EPA's efforts to restrict or prohibit large-scale mining at the Pebble deposit area in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
Commercial Fishermen of Bristol Bay are sponsoring a photo contest, "Faces of the Fleet," to draw attention to the industry that would be "severely impacted if the watershed of Bristol Bay were impacted by large-scale mining." Contest details are provided in this story by Dillingham's KDLG radio.
Tribes Bypass State Rules, Want EPA to Stop GTAC Mine (Wisconsin Public Radio, June 20, 2014)
Northern Wisconsin's Chippewa Federation has written a letter to EPA asking it to use its 404(c) authority to stop mining permitting activity in the Penokee range, according to this article on Wisconsin Public Radio's news site. This is the same authority EPA recently used to begin efforts to restrict or prohibit large-scale mining in the Pebble deposit area of Bristol Bay, Alaska.
A public initiative that has been challenged all the way to the Alaska State Supreme Court will make its way onto the November 4 ballot, per this Supreme Court order. If passed, the "Bristol Bay Forever" initiative, referenced in the order as "12BBAY," would "require legislative approval of any large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation within the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve, or which has the potential to adversely affect any anadromous waters within the reserve."
Public signatures were gathered in 2012 to put the initiative on the ballot, and the petition application was certified as valid by the Lieutenant Governor. Eighteen months of legal challenges followed, with Richard Hughes, the Alaska Miners Association and the Council of Alaska Producers contending that the initiative violates the Alaska State Constitution on three counts.
Yesterday's expedited decision allows ballots to be prepared with the initiative included. A written opinion explaining the decision will be released at a future date.
Article: Alaska Supreme Court Clears Bristol Bay Initiative for Ballot (APRN, June 23, 2014)
Document: Supreme Court Order
Document: "Bristol Bay Forever" initiative
About Pebble Watch
Pebble Watch is an impartial, educational and fact-based initiative of the BBNC Land Department to disseminate information regarding the proposed Pebble Mine project to BBNC shareholders and interested parties.