For three more weeks, the EPA is collecting public comments on its revised Bristol Bay watershed assessment. The 1,300 page document examines the potential effects of a large mine located at the Pebble Prospect. Northern Dynasty, a 50 percent owner of the project, has now submitted its highly critical comments, to the tune of 205 pages worth.
Northern Dynasty says the EPA is premature to analyze a potential mine before the Pebble Partnership has released an actual plan for the mine. Sean McGee is Vice President of Public Affairs for Northern Dynasty.
"In many ways, the mines they are describing and then assessing the effects of do not use modern engineering standards or project specific mitigation and in many cases are describing projects that could not be permitted in Alaska or the United States," said McGee.
McGee says the full mine plan should be ready by the end of the year and the Pebble Partnership can roll it out in Southwest Alaska communities and begin permitting. Northern Dynasty wants EPA to stop its watershed assessment, and let the process go through the National Environmental Policy Act.
"It is a very robust science based and extensive process that provides very broad opportunities for public participation. It's really that process by which this project should be reviewed and ultimately judged. Our request is that EPA cease moving this process forward, the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, and let the NEPA permitting process run its course. There is an important role for EPA to play within that state and federal permitting process. We would encourage them to let this process run its course," said McGee.
The EPA’s draft assessment shows that hypothetical open pit mine in the Bristol Bay region could destroy 90-miles of streams, damaging spawning habitat, and impacting nearly 5-thousand acres of wetlands.
Northern Dynasty submitted documents charging that study authors distorted the potential effects of a mine built to modern standards. It also includes a report on fish rehabilitation projects around Bristol Bay, which it says EPA ignored in the report.
In its comments the company takes issue with the agency’s use of data from what it describes as environmental activist groups, while ignoring a decade of research sponsored by the Pebble Partnership.
"The EPA has relied on these studies, done by environmental groups, in a much more significant way than they've relied upon the data provided by the Pebble Partnership, despite a tremendous disparity in the rigor and comprehensiveness of those data sets. And that is certain contrary to the EPA's own data quality act guidelines. It really calls into questions I think the authors' commitment to doing good science that will present the most defensive answer about the effects of modern mining in this region," said McGee.
Northern Dynasty is going on the offensive towards policy makers on a national level. The company last week ran ads in Washington DC publications like Washington Post, Politico, and the Hill. The ad’s text reads “Stop the EPA’s Black Box Bias against Pebble."
"In many fundamental ways, both in terms of content and process, the EPA is not living up to its own standards and guidelines, and in doing so is presenting a report to the public and policymakers in Washington that could have very significant effects on the future of the Pebble Project, which we believe to be a very resource, both for the state and the nation," said McGee.
Nearly 4,000 comments have been submitted since the EPA posted the watershed assessment. The deadline to submit comments is June 30th.