Bristol Bay stakeholders respond to EPA suspending its withdrawal of proposed mining restrictions

Feb 8, 2018

Opponents of mining in the Bristol Bay watershed celebrate Administrator Scott Pruitt’s announcement and are committed to remaining vocal on the issue. On the other hand, four village corporations with land near or adjacent to the Pebble deposit have called on Pruitt to “ensure a full and fair review for the project” and are concerned that proposed restrictions could impede that process.

KDLG file photo taken of site near Pebble deposit.
Credit Jason Sear

Opponents and advocates of mining in the Bristol Bay region are weighing in on the recent Environmental Protection Agency announcement regarding the proposed Pebble Mine. Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Jan. 26 that the agency will suspend its withdrawal of Obama-era proposed protections for the Bristol Bay Watershed.

Put simply, a proposed Clean Water Act determination that could give the EPA the power to veto the proposed Pebble Mine could still be finalized in the future. For now, the Pebble project can continue through normal permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Pruitt’s announcement has opponents of mining in the region celebrating.

“Given what all of us have perceived as some of the actions, very negative environmental actions, that the Environmental Protection Agency has taken since the new administration has come into office, this was a breath of fresh air,” said Norman Van Vactor, chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. “I think it still, more than ever, probably mandates dictates that we can’t let our guard down, that we really have to remain vocal.”

Remaining vigilant and vocal is a common theme among the regions’ mining opponents. Myrtice Evalt is the interim executive director for Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of Bristol Bay tribes and village corporations.

“We as a region in Bristol Bay need to all work together and still keep our voices spoken to EPA and DNR and all of them, stating that we don’t want this mine in the head waters of our pristine fisheries,” said Evalt.

Some in the region are less enthusiastic about the EPA’s decision. The Alaska Peninsula Corporation, Iliamna Natives Limited, Kijik Corporation and Tanalian Incorporated put out a joint statement. These corporations own land near or adjacent to the Pebble deposit and represent 1500 shareholders.

They called on Pruitt to “ensure a full and fair review for the project,” something they are concerned a Clean Water Act determination could impede.

The statement also said that mining exploration activities in the region have been “significant” for shareholders and “contributed to sustainable communities.”

The statement supports the normal permitting process, but not explicitly the development of the Pebble project.

“We stand in support of due process and will evaluate the project based on the merit of the application process and not based on political interference or pressure,” said Brad Angasan, the Alaska Peninsula Corporation’s vice president of corporate affairs.

The Pebble Limited Partnership took a measured tone, saying that the permitting process for the proposed mine is still on track and that it believes it can construct a mine that “meets Alaska’s high environmental standards.”

The terms of a 2017 settlement stipulate that the EPA cannot finalize a Clean Water Act determination associated with mining the Pebble deposit until 2021 or until the EPA publishes a notice in the Federal Register of the final Environmental Impact Statement regarding Pebble’s permit application.

The Army Corps of Engineers has initiated the process of developing an EIS for the Pebble Project.

As a part of the process, the Corps will host public meetings to solicit input on the project this spring. The dates and locations of those meetings will likely be announced in March.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.