EPA releases new proposal to protect Bristol Bay fisheries from impacts posed by Pebble Mine
By MARY KAUFFMAN
July 19, 2014
Quoting the EPA announcement, "science has shown that development of this mine, which is backed by Northern Dynasty Minerals and the Pebble Limited Partnership, would be one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world and would threaten one of the world’s most productive salmon fisheries."
“Bristol Bay is an extraordinary ecosystem that supports an ancient fishing culture and economic powerhouse,” said Dennis McLerran, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10.
Pebble Deposit Area, Southwest Alaska
EPA Region 10 announced Friday that it is seeking public comment on this new proposal from July 21 to Sept. 19, 2014, and will hold public meetings in Alaska from August 12-15. EPA Region 10’s proposal to protect the Bristol Bay watershed outlines restrictions that would protect waters that support salmon in and near the Pebble deposit. The EPA lists restrictions that will apply to impacts associated with large-scale mining of the Pebble deposit. No other lands or development are subject to the restrictions.
In February, EPA announced it was initiating a process under the Clean Water Act to protect the Bristol Bay fisheries from mining of the Pebble deposit. The announcement followed a multiyear scientific study examining the impacts of large-scale copper mining in the Bristol Bay watershed.The Bristol Bay watershed is an area of exceptional ecological value with salmon productivity unrivaled anywhere in North America. The region’s streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds provide intact habitat that supports all five species of Pacific salmon found in North America: coho, Chinook, sockeye, chum, and pink. These salmon populations are critical to the health of the entire ecosystem, which is home to more than 20 other fish species, 190 bird species, and more than 40 terrestrial mammal species, including bears, moose, and caribou.
Bristol Bay supports commercial, subsistence, and recreational fisheries that are worth hundreds of millions in economic yield each year and create thousands of jobs.
As Bristol Bay’s commercial fishermen are pulling their nets for the final time at the close of another historic sockeye salmon season, Bristol Bay commercial fishermen thanked the EPA for moving to protect the global salmon marketplace.
On behalf of its over 1,800 drift permit holders, the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) commended the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed Clean Water Act 404(c) determination, which if finalized, will restrict mining developments in Bristol Bay that would have “unacceptable adverse impacts” to the watershed and health of the fishery.
“We have seen another incredible salmon run this season, which further highlights the importance of protecting Bristol Bay’s unique fisheries resources,” said Sue Aspelund, executive director of BBRSDA. “We are pleased that EPA has listened to Alaskans, and following vigorous scientific review and consistent with its authority, to see it move forward with the 404(c) process to protect the fishing industry in Bristol Bay, and adhere to the watershed standards the Clean Water Act put in place over 40 years ago for this very purpose.”
“Thousands of jobs in Bristol Bay rely on a healthy fishery. We are excited to see that the EPA also recognizes the importance of this region for its salmon, culture, and economic value to Alaska, and we will continue to work to ensure the Bay remains that way for generations to come," said Carscallen.
The hunting and angling community also commended the EPA on its announcement ot protect Bristol Bay. The effort to protect Bristol Bay has seen one of the largest and most diverse mobilizations of the sporting community in history. A range of sporting conservation groups and trade associations including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Dallas Safari Club, American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Trout Unlimited, Pope & Young Club, Federation of Fly Fishers, Conservation Force, American Sportfishing Association, Delta Waterfowl Foundation and a veritable laundry list of the most recognizable brands in hunting and fishing products have expressed their support for EPA’s use of the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. This support stands firm in the face of recent attacks in Congress on EPA’s Clean Water Act authority.
Scott Hed, director of the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska, emphasized the broad support for the conservation of the Bristol Bay region, stating, “Hunters and anglers from across the country have joined forces and worked for years to defend one of the planet’s finest sporting destinations. The EPA previously identified the threats posed by massive mining proposals in the region and now has issued some advance guidance that will ensure any future development in Bristol Bay will not harm its vast natural resources. Sportsmen welcome this development and believe EPA is taking the right approach by using the Clean Water Act to provide Bristol Bay a future unclouded by the uncertainty it has faced for the last decade."
“Bristol Bay provides unmatched opportunities to fish and hunt because of its unique fisheries and wildlife habitat, and the related jobs and economy are sustainable and irreplaceable,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The EPA agrees and has acted judiciously in attempting to ensure Bristol Bay is not threatened by the wrong type of mining development. Sportsmen and conservationists across the country are cheering the EPA, and we encourage the agency to move forward in finalizing its determination."
U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) said in a prepared statement, “This is a long and detailed determination, but based on initial review, the draft determination applies only to the Pebble deposit. The limited scope is critical and means the determination would not affect mining or any other resource development project in other parts of the state. As I’ve often stated, I believe Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place. However, I remain a strong supporter of the mining industry and mines in other regions of Alaska and remain committed to ensuring that this process does not allow any precedent to be set that could restrict other responsible mining projects in Alaska or the U.S."
However, not all were happy with EPA's announcement Numerous comments of displeasure were voice by officials.
Alaskan Congressman Don Young (R-AK) on Friday denounced the EPA’s proposal to place what he called unprecedented restrictions on state lands in the Bristol Bay region, and called it a major attack on state’s rights both in Alaska and nationwide.
“For the EPA to put forward these types of restrictions, prior to any permit applications and without due process, is alarming to say the least,” said Congressman Young. “As I’ve said in the past, the EPA’s expansive, jurisdictional power grab is a very serious threat to Alaska’s sovereignty and the future of any development on state, Alaska Native, or privately owned lands both in Alaska and across the United States.”
Young said, “People must understand the implications of the EPA’s actions. If they get away with taking these actions in the Bristol Bay region, they can and will replay this strategy nationwide and stop projects in their tracks – before, during, and after the permitting process. These actions give the EPA absolute authority to meddle in even the most basic development and infrastructure projects, a fact that should be chilling to any private land owner or anyone who has benefited from even the most basic construction project.”
In a prepared statement, Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty also voice his displeasure. “The EPA’s rush to veto potential mining at the Pebble deposit is disturbing, especially since none of the required permit applications, including a Section 404 permit application, have been filed with or vetted by the state and federal regulatory authorities,” said Attorney General Geraghty. “It is unfortunate that the EPA, rather than working with other federal regulatory agencies during this comprehensive review process, and with a state committed to responsible and safe resource development, has chosen to act prematurely with a heavy hand, even while a court case challenging the use of that authority is pending," said Geraghty.
Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash also expressed disappointment with the new regulations. Balash said, “The EPA’s action affects more than just this potential project and this area of land,” said Commissioner Balash. “It sets precedent for the EPA to prohibit or limit development anywhere and anytime EPA chooses, including on lands inside and outside of Alaska. Today’s action will undoubtedly negatively impact opportunities for investment and job creation not only in Alaska, but around the nation.”
The Co-Chairs of the Alaska House Resources Committee issued the following statements Friday upon learning of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s latest attempt to block development of the proposed Pebble Deposit in Southwest Alaska.
“Blatant. The Agency is currently being sued by the developers, who are seeking court approval to stop them from over-reaching their authority before the companies can even follow the prescribed process. I am, sadly, not surprised to learn of this new attempt, which borders on a ‘taking’ of state resources,” Representative Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, said. “Given the report of the EPA inspector general and the collusion between national environmental organizations and the EPA – and the now common ‘I lost the emails’ excuse – we’re certainly within our rights to push back and protect the state’s interests. We’ll review their latest plan, continue to monitor the situation closely, and continue to also ask Alaskans to make their voice heard. I thank the Governor for supporting the companies’ suit, and our delegation in Washington, D.C. for continuing to try and hold EPA administrators accountable. Actions like these should not be allowed by the so-called gatekeepers of our lands. Let the process continue without games.”
HOW A MINE WOULD AFFECT THE BRISTOL BAY WATERSHED
Quoting an EPA news release, based on information provided by Northern Dynasty Minerals to investors and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, mining the Pebble deposit is likely to result in:
A mine would also require additional infrastructure including a major transportation corridor, pipelines, and wastewater treatment plants, according to the EPA.
THE EPA PROPOSAL TO PROTECT THE BRISTOL BAY WATERSHED
EPA Region 10’s proposal to protect the Bristol Bay watershed outlines restrictions that would protect waters that support salmon in and near the Pebble deposit. These restrictions apply to impacts associated with large-scale mining of the Pebble deposit. No other lands or development are subject to the restrictions.
The Clean Water Act generally requires a Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before any person places dredged or fill material into streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorizes thousands of permits every year, and EPA works with the Corps and developers to resolve environmental concerns so projects can move forward. Under Section 404(c), EPA is authorized to prohibit or restrict fill activities if a project would have unacceptable adverse effects on fishery areas.
EPA has used its 404(c) authority sparingly, beginning the process in 30 instances and completing it only 13 times in the 42-year history of the Clean Water Act. EPA use of its authority has typically involved major projects with significant impacts on some of America’s most ecologically valuable waters.
EPA Region 10 has initially concluded that mining the Pebble deposit would affect the South Fork Koktuli River, North Fork Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek watersheds. The proposed restrictions are outlined in a document called the Proposed Determination. The restrictions are based on the construction and operation of a 0.25-billion-ton mine. This was the smallest of the three mine scenarios EPA analyzed in the Bristol Bay Assessment and is significantly smaller than the mine presented to Northern Dynasty Minerals investors. Even the development of this smaller mine would result in unacceptable adverse impacts.
Based on scientific analysis, EPA proposes to restrict all discharge of dredged or fill material related to mining the Pebble deposit that would result in any or all of the following:
According to EPA analyses, losses of the nature and magnitude listed above would be unprecedented for the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program in the Bristol Bay region, as well as the rest of Alaska and perhaps the nation.
In addition to holding public meetings, EPA will meet with tribes for formal consultation. The Bristol Bay region is home to 31 Alaska Native Villages. Residents of the area depend on salmon both as a major food resource and for their economic livelihood. Nearly all residents participate in subsistence fishing.
The Clean Water 404(c) process allows for substantial input from the public, the state, the mining companies involved with the Pebble deposit and from Alaska Native tribes. EPA Region 10 will review public comments on its proposal and consider next steps in the process, which could include moving toward a Recommended Determination to the EPA Assistant Administrator for Water.
Again, EPA Region 10 is now seeking public comment on its proposal from July 21 to Sept. 19, 2014, and will hold public meetings in Alaska from August 12-15. Public hearings will be held in Anchorage, New Stuyahok, Nondalton, Kokhanok, Dillingham, Iliamna, and Igiugig. (Click here for hearing information).
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