May 2014

31 May 2014

Begich visits Dillingham

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Alaska Senator Mark Begich will be in Dillingham for the opening of his Dillingham Field Office at the Sifsof building. Begich is the only member of the Alaska congressional delegation to take a stance on the proposed Pebble mine. In January 2014 Begich said that Pebble was the "wrong mine, wrong place, too big." 

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30 May 2014

Murkowski gets earful on EPA, Pebble at Dillingham meeting

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In a "town hall meeting" with Senator Lisa Murkowski in Dillingham Thursday, attendees expressed disappointment over her support of Senate Bill 2156, which would limit EPA's use of the Clean Water Act's 404(c) provision, and asked her to protect the region and its way of life.

According to observers who attended from Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), more than 250 people filled the Dillingham Elementary School gym, with time given to 22 of the 75 who signed up to comment.

Commenters reminded Murkowski that it was people from the region who asked the federal government to step in to help protect Bristol Bay. In 2010, several tribes and BBNC petitioned EPA to use its 404(c) authority to limit or restrict development at the Pebble deposit.

Part C of Section 404 authorizes the EPA to withdraw, deny, prohibit or restrict areas to discharge – before or after a permit has been submitted – if it determines that a discharge of fill would result in a "significant loss or damage to fisheries, shellfishing, or wildlife habitat or recreation areas." The authority, rarely used, has been previously upheld by courts.

However, now that the agency has started this process related to the Pebble deposit, Murkowski and others are crying foul, describing EPA's action in terms such as "federal overreach" and "abuse of power."

At the town hall, Murkowski explained her co-sponsorship of SB 2156, the "Regulatory Fairness Act," by saying she is determined to push for a fair process for developers. On Murkowski's Senate website and elsewhere, the Senator has framed the issue of 404(c) as one of fairness, representing the bill as a way to push back against an EPA "seeking to dramatically expand its authority." In fact, EPA's ability to use 404(c) before or after permitting is nothing new; although the authority is rarely used, it has been written into the Clean Water Act since its inception.

In Dillingham, Murkowski defended the proposed legislation, saying it would not take away EPA's authority to enact 404(c) limits during a typical permitting process, during which a mine plan would be presented. Bristol Bay Native Corporation Chairman Joseph Chythlook responded that residents had been waiting for years to see such a mine plan. "PLP keeps telling us they intend to file a mining plan," he said. "We have been waiting for 10 years – and they continue to manipulate public opinion, media and now the courts."

Murkowski, while staunchly against the EPA's use of 404(c) before or after the permitting process, has also taken developers to task on their delay in submitting a mine plan. In July 2013, she wrote a strongly-worded letter to Northern Dynasty Minerals, Anglo American and the Pebble Limited Partnership stating the effect that such a delay has on the people of Bristol Bay. 

Chythlook further reminded Murkowski of Pebble Partnership's promise to Bristol Bay not to develop if the mine was unwanted; instead, he said, they filed a lawsuit. Addressing Murkowski directly, he said: "You have heard from us tonight. We want to hear from you that you will help us protect our fisheries and way and life. That is all we asking, and we hope you hear us."

Murkowski continues her visit with Bristol Bay residents today, with stops in Togiak and New Stuyahok. She is next up for reelection in 2016.

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Clean Water Act 404(c)
SB 2156

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27 May 2014

Spring 2014 News Roundup: EPA watershed assessment, PLP suit

In the last few months, most news related to development of the Pebble mine has revolved around the EPA, its 404(c) action and response from Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP). Here's a quick summary of the major events, along with some of the news stories about them.

404(c) process begins

On February 28, EPA announces its intent to begin the 404(c) process under the Clean Water Act to limit or restrict development at the Pebble deposit in Bristol Bay, based on the results of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.

Leaders, stakeholders react after EPA's Pebble mine announcement (Alaska Dispatch) 

EPA tells miners to keep out of Alaska's Bristol Bay and they aren't buying it (Business Week online)

Senators seek to limit EPA authority

On March 25, Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduce Senate Bill 2156, the "Regulatory Fairness Act," which would change the language of the Clean Water Act by limiting the timeframe in which EPA could pursue the 404(c) process. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski signs on as a co-sponsor.

PLP argues against 404(c) process and Watershed Assessment

On April 29, PLP responds to EPA at the end of the 404(c) "Consultation Period" with a 60-page document arguing that the process is flawed and should be abandoned.

Internal investigation launched into Watershed Assessment process 

On May 2, EPA's Office of Inspector General launches an internal investigation to determine whether the agency followed the proper procedures when developing the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.

Inspector General to probe EPA's 'preemptive veto' on Pebble (Mineweb.com)

EPA watchdog reviewing agency's work on Bristol Bay and Pebble mine (Anchorage Daily News)

Pebble cites EPA emails in claim assessment was biased (Alaska Journal of Commerce)

PLP files suit against EPA

On May 22, PLP files a civil suit in the U.S. District Court for Alaska against EPA and Dennis McClerran, Region 10 supervisor, for "violating federal law," and asks for an injunction against EPA for its use of the 404(c) process.

Pebble sues EPA over attempt to veto mine (Alaska Journal)

Mine Lawsuit - EPA authority under Clean Water Act challenged (The Cordova Times)

Mining News: Watchdog, court eyes alleged misconduct (North of 60 Mining News)

 

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23 May 2014

Pebble asks for injunction to stop EPA's 404(c) process

The Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) announced Thursday it has filed a request for an injunction against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its use of the 404(c) process to seek limitations or restrictions on development in the Pebble deposit area of Bristol Bay. PLP filed its civil suit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for Alaska against the EPA and Dennis McClerran, Region 10 supervisor, for "violating federal law."

Earlier this month, in an interview with KDLG radio, PLP CEO Tom Collier indicated the developer was ready to litigate over EPA's 404(c) action. 

Collier stated in a press release that the EPA had "repeatedly ignored detailed comments" the developer had made regarding EPA's actions and that the lawsuit was necessary in order to "get the Agency's attention."

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PLP press release

PLP legal filing

PLP interview with KDLG radio

 

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21 May 2014

Pebble CEO says mine plan ready, waiting for a partner

Following are some highlights from a recent interview between Dillingham's KDLG radio and Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier, who spoke about EPA, PLP's plans for future and the search for a new investor. The interview is about 50 minutes long.

Mine plan/permitting status: A mine plan is ready, but any new partner would want to review and modify it, so PLP will wait to submit any permitting documents until a new investor is found.

Search for a new investor: PLP is in discussion with "a handful of major mining companies."

EPA's 404(c) process: Northern Dynasty Minerals has submitted several legal, policy, and scientific arguments against EPA's process; PLP is "ready to litigate" if 404(c) is used to block development.

Watershed Assessment: Based on documents authored by mine opponents, PLP believes the study findings were pre-determined.

EPA investigation: PLP has called for EPA to investigate the Watershed Assessment/404(c) process. PLP says documents and emails show clearly the agency set out to veto the development before the study began.

Choice between mining & fish?: If there is a choice between mining and fish, said Collier, fish win. However, he believes that the technology exists to mine without substantial risk.

"It's not science, it's data." Regarding the studies that have already been conducted in support of the permitting process, Collier said there's a "big difference" between science and data. He said PLP is "just counting fish" – that the studies are a collection of data that is verifiable.

Listen to the full interview.

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20 May 2014

Watershed Assessment process under investigation

EPA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced it is conducting preliminary research to determine whether the agency followed laws, regulations, policies and procedures when it developed the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. The internal investigation was initiated after congressional requests and hotline complaints.

The Office of Inspector General has requested a list of all EPA personnel involved in development of the Watershed Assessment, stakeholders EPA interacted with before and during the course of the assessment, a timeline of activities EPA performed to conduct and complete the assessment, and an accounting of all costs associated with development of the assessment.

Read the Inspector General's letter

Read news reports:
Inspector General to probe EPA's 'preemptive veto' on Pebble (Mineweb.com)

EPA watchdog reviewing agency's work on Bristol Bay and Pebble mine (Anchorage Daily News)

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19 May 2014

Pebble calls for EPA to halt its 404(c) action

The end of EPA's "Consultation Period," the first step of the federal agency's 404(c) process to consider protections for Bristol Bay, brought a strongly worded response from Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP).

Documents submitted to EPA and released to the public April 29 state PLP's case against the actions, saying that EPA should wait on any 404(c) process until the typical permitting process has taken place.

PLP's objections include legal, policy and scientific arguments, led by the assertion that 404(c) actually does not give EPA authority to issue a pre-emptive veto.

PLP's other arguments include:

  • Under Alaska's Statehood Act and ANILCA, the land in question was set aside for mineral exploration, and EPA cannot withdraw this land.
  • EPA's actions avoid the rigor of a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is the way to resolve difficult scientific disputes.
  • Allowing EPA to veto the project before permits are filed will have a chilling effect on investment, such as the $700 million invested in Pebble to date by foreign companies.
  • EPA manipulated the science of the Watershed Assessment to support a particular outcome. (Since the release of PLP's letter, the EPA's Office of Inspector General has begun preliminary research to determine whether the agency followed laws, regulations, policies and procedures in developing the assessment.)

In February, EPA announced its intention to use its authority under Section 404(c) to protect the salmon fishery in Bristol Bay "from the potentially destructive impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine." The Consultation Period, typically 30 days, is a time during which developers can provide additional information to EPA to prove that there will be no unacceptable adverse affects to the area.

EPA is currently working on the next step, which is a document called the "Proposed Determination." This document will provide EPA's recommendations on how protections should be put into place. This could include limiting development in the Pebble mine area or restricting it from development altogether.

The Proposed Determination is expected to be released in early summer. After it is published, it will be open to the public for review, comment, and public hearings.

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