Swift reaction to Bristol Bay Assessment
By Marleanna Hall
Last month’s release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s final Bristol Bay Assessment (BBA) caused an abundance of reactions from the public and elected officials. While RDC continues to advocate for a fair and unbiased permitting process for all industries, it is concerned the negative precedence set by the BBA will impact investment and projects across Alaska.
The EPA’s final assessment described potential impacts on salmon and water from large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed.
At the time of release of the BBA, then-CEO of the Pebble Partnership, John Shively stated, “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 socalled ‘hypothetical mine’ of the EPA’s design.” Shively added, “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.”
Alaska’s Governor Sean Parnell responded to the release stating, “Unfortunately, today’s EPA report comes as no surprise to Alaskans. 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.”
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young, have both expressed concerns about the precedent the study could set if a preemptive veto is placed on the Pebble Project.
“If the EPA has concerns about the impact of a project, there is an appropriate time to raise them - after a permit application has been made, not before,” Murkowski stated in a press release.
RDC is concerned the EPA’s draft watershed assessment is so deeply flawed that it breeds uncertainty in the regulatory process going forward, for all industries.
With the BBA release, U.S. Senator Mark Begich announced, “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.”
In late January, Begich announced he opposed the prospect of a mine the size and location of Pebble, stating, “Wrong mine, wrong place, too big,” in an interview with the Anchorage Daily News.
Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole stated in an email to the Alaska Journal of Commerce, “Senator Begich initially said he supported due process for our project and we are disappointed he has turned his back on due process and against thousands of new jobs and potentially billions in economic activity for Alaska.”
In a January 16 editorial, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner said, “Whether development of the Pebble deposit is good for Alaska has yet to be determined. EPA Administrator McCarthy shouldn’t use the contents of this final watershed assessment to preclude Alaskans from deciding what’s best for this state.”
Alaska state Senator Cathy Giessel criticized the EPA’s overreaching efforts, stating, “If a project can’t live up to Alaska’s standards, it will not be allowed. However, no project should ever be banned before regulators and Alaskans have had the opportunity to properly assess it. “Resource development is about our people, our families and our future. That’s why decisions affecting us must remain in the hands of Alaskans,” wrote Giessel.
In another recent opinion piece, State Representative Eric Feige wrote, “The issues and passions generated by discussing Pebble are many and complex. This is why we have an established, science-based process to evaluate projects and determine if they meet our high standards for development. The alternative is a politically-driven process that would promote decisions based upon the whims of partisan politics, with a guaranteed outcome that investment money will go somewhere else, and with it so will the jobs and economic opportunity for Alaskans for generations to come.” Feige added, “Alaskans are smart enough to do projects like this right. Let’s work together and find a way make that happen.”
One of RDC’s top priorities is to promote and defend the integrity of the existing permitting process and to advocate for predictable, timely, and efficient state and federal permitting based on sound science and economic feasibility.
RDC contends the project could provide new infrastructure in the area, allowing for more affordable energy, as well as provide much needed jobs and economic activity.
While the Bristol Bay fishery provides important commercial and subsistence benefits, fishing alone has not provided the needed support to improve the region’s economy. Fishing by its nature is seasonal, and a majority of those employed in the fishery live outside Alaska. People in the region are leaving and schools are closing, while Pebble, and other potential development projects in the region have the potential to diversify the local economy, providing thousands of yearround jobs.
The EPA has not announced what the BBA will be used for, which adds further uncertainty to the process.
“But they’re sure kind of leading up to the point where it would seem they would take that next, last step,” Murkowski said. “As an Alaskan I want to make sure that on our state lands using our state process that we’re able to make the decision for ourselves.”
RDC remains concerned the EPA will use the flawed study to preemptively veto the Pebble Project, before it has been fully vetted and allowed to go through the rigorous state and federal permitting process.
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