EPA, State Debate Bristol Bay Assessment
Posted 4.21.12 by Renewable Resources Coalition
A survey by Dittman Research and Communications showed that the vast majority of Bristol Bay residents oppose the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay Alaska and support our Renewable Resources. Because they are concerned about the protection of their fishery and their livilihood they invited the EPA to come to Bristol Bay, more on that progress below:
A fiery letter drafted last month by the state Attorney General Michael Geraghty to the United States Environmental Protection Agency questioned the federal agency's right to conduct a watershed assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed.
The effort, which was initiated in response to requests by nine tribes, two commercial fishing organization, the Bristol Bay Native Corporations and others requesting the EPA step in and restrict certain mining efforts in the watershed, was criticized by the state, which said the EPA was reaching beyond its jurisdiction.
"EPA's watershed assessment effort reaches well beyond any process or authority contemplated by the Clean Water Act," the letter said. "Physically, the assessment encompasses approximately 15 million acres of largely state-owned land — an area comparable in size to the entire state of West Virginia."
In its letter, the state called the assessment, which is due out in draft form early next month, premature, as the federal wetlands permit application for the Pebble Mine has yet to be filed. In addition, the state questioned the federal agency's authority, and said any action under the Section 404(c) process of the Clean Water Act would meet legal challenges.
In a letter of response, the EPA's Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran said the study being conducted is a response to requests from those both in favor of and opposed to the federal government acting under the 404(c) section of the Clean Water Act to prohibit or restrict discharges of dredging or fill materials associated with metallic sulfide mining within the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed.
But the EPA has not initiated such action, McLerran wrote. Rather, it is gathering data through the Watershed Assessment to determine whether to use the EPA's authority under the section or to take other action.
"We understand how important this resource is to Alaska, the people of Alaska, and to the cultural, commercial, industrial, recreational and environmental interests associated with Bristol Bay," the letter states, noting the EPA's continued interest in coordinating with the state as well as local tribal organizations in an "open, transparent, and public manner."
The state's letter, however, also questioned the scientific validity of the study, given its relatively quick turnaround in scientific terms.
"EPA has contracted with at least one consultant who has publicly expressed actual bias against the Pebble project in particular," the letter said. "These aspects of the assessment are troubling, will undermine the scientific credibility of the watershed assessment, and will yield unreliable conclusions."
McLerran said the EPA would like to meet regarding those concerns during the public meetings on the Watershed Assessment in early June, as well as in August, when a public meeting will be held in Anchorage with a peer review panel.
"You will also have an opportunity to convey your concerns directly to the Peer Review Panel at the public meeting so that the members will consider them as they deliberate," the letter noted.
In response to the state's numerous legal concerns, the EPA said since it has not initiated any regulatory action, it will wait to respond to those legal concerns until such a time as the EPA moves forward with action.
"I want to be clear that the Watershed Assessment is not a regulatory action, and will not have any legal consequences," McLerran wrote. "EPA has not initiated any regulatory action under 404(c), or any other authority."
The state attorney general's letter to a much sterner tone, calling for the EPA to cease all work on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and meet with the state.
"We believe the EPA's actions in using the watershed assessment to address the pending petition are unlawfully preemptive, premature, arbitrary, capricious, and vague," the letter concluded.
The exchange comes as the Bristol Bay Native Corporation announced a poll of its shareholders that indicated the vast majority of the shareholders are opposed to the Pebble project.
The survey, conducted by Dittman Research & Communications, showed that a significant number — 38 percent — of its shareholders support mining in general, and 57 percent of those who support the mining industry oppose the Pebble project.
Broken down by region, 93 percent of those in the Nushagak sub-region oppose the mine, while 90 percent are against it in the Togiak sub-region. In the Ugashik region, 86 percent are opposed, and in the Chignik sub-region, 75 percent oppose the mine. In the Naknek sub-region, the number was 74 percent, and in the Iliamna sub-region, 68 percent oppose the mine.
"BBNC supports responsible resource development, but opposes the Pebble project due to the risks it poses to our fisheries and our Native way of life," said corporation President and CEO Jason Metrokin, in a release. "The survey shows that BBNC shareholders are not opposed to mining, but are opposed to the Pebble mine. Like our shareholders, we believe there are other projects that could be developed in our region that would provide jobs and other economic benefits that would not present unacceptable environmental risks to our people and our land."
Carey Restino can be reached at email@example.com.