Fair process and jobs: EPA hears different opinions about Pebble Mine in Iliamna

Oct 13, 2017

Agency staff heard support and opposition for withdrawing the proposed preemptive mining restrictions in the Bristol Bay watershed. Some residents spoke up about the benefits of working for Pebble and why they and their village corporations deserve to see Pebble Mine apply for permits.

EPA staff took public comment in Iliamna Thursday.
Credit Elizabeth Harball

The EPA was in Iliamna Thursday to take another round of public comment about its intent to withdraw the preemptive 404(c) Clean Water Act restrictions. Agency staff heard some different opinions than they had collected the day before in Dillingham.

Audio transcript:

  • I have been working for Pebble since 2006. I’m very grateful that I have a job, that I can put food on the table, pay bills, have private insurance, get what my kids and want, and enjoy the luxuries of a car, 4-wheeler, boat, snowmachine, new furniture, and the best part is I don’t have to get up and leave my community to go to work. – Margie Olympic, Iliamna.
  • The proposed determination ignored and undermined all the existing federal and state processes. These are state lands set aside for mineral development. – John MacKinnon, Associated General Contractors, Anchorage.
  • When EPA tried to implement the 404(c) Clean Water Act, they took away our say in our own property. We can make good decisions for our own land, and we don’t need the federal government to create more unwanted regulations. – Lorene Anelon, president of Iliamna Natives Limited.
  • We’re fortunate resources such as oil and gas and minerals are available for us to make a living, as we’re fortunate that resources such as fish and game are available for us to fill our freezers. No one should be so naïve as to believe Alaskans will choose one to forsake the other.” – Daniel Gallagher, Pebble Ltd. Partnership, Anchorage.

Several representatives from the resource development industry were in Iliamna to tell the EPA that there is no reason to skip the NEPA process.

"It’s inappropriate to preemptively reject a project," said Deantha Crockett, the director of the Alaska Miners Assocation. "Accordingly, EPA would be acting in good faith if it withdraws the proposed determination. This only puts us at a starting line, the chance to apply in the first place and begin the review of a mine plan. This is not the mine moving forward. Investors bringing jobs to Alaska must have the assurance that after spending significant amounts of money a plan will be reviewed objectively and according to science and law."

Clyde Trefon from Nondalton told EPA he’s been watching the Pebble project up close as a bear guard for about a decade. Like the mine’s most outspoken critics, he says he too lives off the land and waters of Bristol Bay, but he’s keeping an open mind about it.

“Our village corporation just signed on with the mining company, and that puts us in a position to where we say ‘you guys should withdraw’. There’s a lot of groups that say that they’re all for Bristol Bay, but nobody speaks for me, I speak for myself. There ain’t a group here that says we’re speaking for the whole whatever, nobody does that. I speak for myself," Trefon said.

Marit Carlson van Dort works for Pebble, and testified that during their renewed field work this past summer, small though it was, the company employed 41 people from the Bristol Bay region.

"From Iliamna, Newhalen, Kokhanok, Nondalton, Koliganek, New Stuyahok, Levelock, and Igiugig. Was it enough? No, but it was a start."

Those jobs are part of why Raymond Wassilie from Newhalen told the EPA he supports its withdrawal of the preemptive restrictions.

“The reason why is I don’t want to make that decision for the kids of the future. Because it’ll be their time to step up and justify what they want to do.”

Other speakers on hand Thursday criticized EPA for considering rolling back the restrictions, voicing fears about the mine’s potential impact on Bristol Bay's clean water.

“Our renewable resources like fish, game, and anything gathered from our land and water is both culturally and monetarily important to me, my children, and my community," said Renee Zackar from Igiugig. "I testified the last time EPA came around, and I cheered and cried thankful tears when I was told that the Environmental Protection Agency would indeed help us protect our environment.”

Everett Thompson, a commercial fisherman from Naknek, also spoke up in favor of finalizing the 404(c) protections.

“The only true economy with longevity is a renewable economy and we have that. It is scary to keep investing into the fishery with an ever-looming threat of Pebble Mine. Please do what is right, do not withdraw your Clean Water Act proposed determination," Thompson said.

Several speakers also criticized EPA administrator Scott Pruitt for making the decision to settle with the Pebble Limited Partnership this spring without public input from local communities. Nanci Morris-Lyon owns a sportfishing business near King Salmon.

“I've been involved in the Pebble debate since longer than I care to remember. Since the debate began, I have raised a daughter. She became a full-time fly-fishing guide this summer. These things take a very long time. Much longer than it took Director Pruitt to decide that all the time we committed to scientific study proving why Pebble Mine should not happen in Bristol Bay was not worth reviewing," she said.

The listening sessions in Iliamna and Dillingham the day before were the only two of their kind scheduled as part of its public comment period that closes October 17. 

Elizabeth Harball in Anchorage contributed to this report. Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.