Begich Announces His Opposition to Pebble Mine, Comments on Findings of Bristol Bay Assessment
Others say EPA Assessment poorly conceived and poorly executed, and cannot serve as the scientific basis for any decisions concerning Pebble.
By MARY KAUFFMAN
January 20, 2014
In a prepared statement today Begich said, “I have long been a strong supporter of Alaska’s mining industry and believe we must do all we can to support resource development industries that provide family wage jobs for Alaskans and keep our economy strong. But years of scientific study has proven the proposed Pebble Mine cannot be developed safely in the Bristol Bay watershed. As the multi-year watershed assessment details, the mine would likely threaten the largest and most lucrative salmon run in the world. Bristol Bay produces half the world’s red salmon and supports thousands of fishing jobs and way of life for thousands of Alaskans. Thousands of Alaskans have weighed in on this issue and I have listened to their concerns. Pebble is not worth the risk."
“I agree with other pro-development Alaska leaders such as Senator Ted Stevens and former governors Jay Hammond and Tony Knowles, that Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place for Alaska," said Begich.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its final Bristol Bay Assessment describing potential impacts to salmon and ecological resources from proposed large-scale copper and gold mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska last Wednesday, Jan. 15th. The report, titled "An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska," concludes that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures. Bristol Bay supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, producing nearly 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon with runs averaging 37.5 million fish each year.
Begich said last Wednesday, “I have always said I will let science be my guide, and my decision whether to support the Pebble project will be based on this report.”
Commercial fishermen from across Alaska and the United States praised Sen. Begich today for standing up for Alaskan jobs. After examining the science in the EPA’s final Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, Sen. Begich called the Pebble Mine the "wrong mine, wrong place, too big… Too many potential long-term impacts to a fishery that is pretty critical to that area but also to Alaska, to world markets."
Today, Bob Waldrop, Executive Director for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, said, “Senator Begich is standing up for the commercial fishery of Bristol Bay. He deserves our thanks and praise for opposing a project that eradicates up to 94 miles of salmon streams. He has clearly listened to the concerns of commercial fishermen and carefully reviewed the EPA’s extensive scientific report in coming to this critical decision. As the EPA’s Watershed Assessment confirmed, the Pebble Mine alone could destroy the 14,000 jobs and $1.5 billion economy associated with Bristol Bay’s commercial fishery. By opposing the Pebble Mine, Senator Begich is standing up for Alaskan jobs and protecting a way of life for fishermen across Alaska."
Tim Bristol, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program Director, also praised Alaska Senator Mark Begich today for opposing the Pebble Mine.
Bristol said, “Hunters and anglers, guides, lodge and sportfishing business owners, and others across Alaska and America are grateful for Sen. Begich’s decision to follow the EPA’s clear science and oppose the Pebble Mine. As he well understands, Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place, and is a threat to Alaska’s sportfishing economy. I am hopeful that Senator Begich’s leadership in protecting this sportsman’s paradise will inspire his colleagues to join him and the thousands of fishermen and small business owners nationwide who have also called for action in Bristol Bay.”
The EPA report comes as no surprise to Alaskans said Governor Sean Parnell last week. “This report is little more than a pretext for an EPA veto of the state’s permitting process, something the federal Clean Water Act prohibits. As my record demonstrates, I will not trade one resource for another, and every permitting application—when filed—deserves scientific and public scrutiny based on facts, not hypotheticals," said Parnell in a prepared statement last Wednesday.
The Alaska Miners Association responded to the EPA’s final Bristol Bay Assessment last week stating the EPA continued to use hypothetical mining scenarios drawn from an aged economic report and NOT from a submitted or completed mine plan. The Miners Association said the EPA omitted current state and federal regulations that would be applied to any such project, and ignored modern mining practices. In addition, the release of the report is further indication that EPA rushed this process, setting a dangerous tone for any development project in the United States.
"As a miner, a lifelong Alaskan, and an American, I am disappointed. First and foremost, natural resource development projects should always be evaluated by science and facts. Nothing more, nothing less,” said AMA Executive Director, Deantha Crockett last Wednesday. “In its assessment, the EPA has done an injustice to all development projects by supposing scenarios of poorly designed mines, omitting real-life standards that mining projects must follow, and exaggerating the impacts resulting from what is an impossible scenario. EPA has also done an injustice to Alaskans who deserve to know the scientific realities of Pebble, realities that will come through a mine plan submitted in the formal NEPA process. It is in this process that we should determine our support for the project based on whether or not it can be done right. This highly flawed report does not give us the information we need to make such an important decision."
About the final Bristol Bay assessment from the EPA, Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively said, “We have maintained all along that the Bristol Bay watershed assessment process has been rushed and thus has resulted in two very flawed documents. We will have to review the final product to see how many, if any, of these fundamental problems raised by the Pebble Partnership, the State of Alaska, EPA’s peer reviewers and others have been addressed. The EPA has studied much smaller areas than Bristol Bay and taken considerably longer and committed considerably more resources to complete them."
“It is a disappointing day when an agency charged with upholding a science based regulatory process ignores its own rules and regulations, and does not take the time nor expend the effort needed to fully assess impacts in the vast Bristol Bay region. We had higher expectations for the EPA," said Shively.
Shively said, “It must be remembered that the report does not assess the effects of the Pebble Project as we have not finalized nor submitted a project for regulatory evaluation. The report is based upon a so-called ‘hypothetical mine’ of the EPA’s design. The hypothetical mines developed by EPA in their first two drafts did not employ the most advanced engineering and mining practices, as will most certainly be used at Pebble."
“And it does not consider the critical environmental safeguards and modern mitigation that state and federal permitting will require for Pebble," said Shively. "Even then, the EPA has grossly over-estimated the effects of its under-engineered project. PLP has spent many years and $600 million dollars on engineering and environmental studies to develop a plan for a 21st century mine. We understand the critical role salmon plays in this region of Alaska, both culturally and commercially. This is why we have dedicated significant time and resources to our environmental studies program and why we have taken time to design a responsible project for developing the mineral resource at Pebble," he said.
Shively said, “EPA did not take the time nor did it commit the financial resources to assess the potential impacts of development in an area the size of the state of Ohio. It is both a poorly conceived and poorly executed study, and it cannot serve as the scientific basis for any decisions concerning Pebble. We have noted throughout this process that the EPA has deviated from its own internal guidance for a report with ever changing objectives."
“Unfortunately the real loss is for stakeholders, especially those in Southwest Alaska who are seeking ways to fully understand modern mining and the range of issues posed by possible development of Pebble. We had certainly hoped that EPA would depoliticize this process and come back to its legitimate and important role of evaluating this project based on the best available science, an evaluation which should take place in the very comprehensive permitting process established by federal law. Clearly this report should not be used as the basis for any type of agency decision regarding Pebble," said Shively.
The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce took the position that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is continuing its disregard for its own long standing regulatory process.
Quoting a statement from the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, "While this decision clearly affects the Pebble Project and its efforts to research and design a 21st century mine, businesses throughout Alaska and the United States should take note."
"Businesses rely on consistent application of state and federal laws. The EPA's action today continues to signal to the business community that it is willing to halt projects they don't like before a business even has an opportunity to submit permit applications," said the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce.
The Alaska Chamber stated it supports responsible natural resource development and encourages the Alaska State Legislature and the Parnell administration to uphold Alaska's strong regulatory and permitting laws and policies that will facilitate additional exploration, site development, employment, infrastructure, research and natural resource production in Alaska.
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