EPA restrictions: should they stay or should they go?

What do you think about the EPA's proposal to withdraw its 2014 plan that detailed restrictions for hard-rock mining in Bristol Bay? Whether you agree or not, the EPA wants your input by October 17.

Explaining the background behind the proposal is a little like following the twists and turns of your favorite weekly drama series. We've given it a shot, in a timeline format, in a detailed web post, and in a 5-minute summary in this newsletter.

The ongoing effort to develop the Pebble mine is no fiction, however, and will have real effects on the people of Bristol Bay. Opponents believe those effects will be negative, and will ultimately harm a subsistence way of life and the sport and commercial fishing industries. Developers argue the effects will be positive, improving the economic stability of the area and contributing to state coffers.

You can look at many Pebble Watch resources before sending EPA your own opinion, including advice on preparing public input. Or check out some of the 6,700+ comments that have been submitted so far for inspiration.

Have you checked out our new website yet? 

We first launched Pebble Watch in 2010, and have seven years worth of content for students, investors, activists (both for and against), and anyone else wanting to learn more. Dive in to science-based topics, check out resources for learning about permitting, view maps of the area, or get mobile updates on the go. Visit Pebble watch today.

The 5-minute summary

What led to EPA's current proposal to withdraw proposed restrictions on hard-rock mining in Bristol Bay?

  • EPA began a study of the Bristol Bay Watershed in 2011, after receiving a request to get involved from several Alaska Native tribes. 
  • After publishing the final watershed assessment in 2014, the agency decided restrictions were needed to protect the waters from adverse effects of hard-rock mining. It began a controversial process under the Clean Water Act Section 404(c) and published a "Proposed Determination" detailing the restrictions.
  • The Proposed Determination received 671,517 public comments, which the EPA was sifting through, when...
  • Pebble mine developers brought multiple suits against the EPA, and a federal judge forced it to stop working on the 404(c) process until those could be resolved. Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) and Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM) argued that the EPA was unfairly pre-empting the possibility for PLP to develop a world-class copper and gold deposit.
  • Donald Trump wins the 2016 election, creating an administration keen to rein in what many saw as an overreach by the EPA.
  • In May 2017, EPA and the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) agreed on settlement terms, which included that the EPA “initiate a process to propose to withdraw the Proposed Determination.”
  • While developers also argued that the EPA's 3-year Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment is flawed, the EPA retained the right to use the study "without limitation."
  • Today: The EPA is seeking public comment on its proposal. It has received around 6,700 comments so far.
  • The 90-day comment period ends on October 17, 2017.

Of interest

The first-ever Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Count on Sept. 9 brought out more than 1200 citizen scientists. They helped researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries count the endangered whales from 12 stations along the Turnagain Arm portion of Cook Inlet. The result? 260 whales were counted, although some were duplicates. Cook Inlet Beluga Whales are one of eight "Species in the Spotlight" that NOAA has designated as most at risk of extinction in the near future. Permitting for the Pebble mine would likely address any potential impacts to the Cook Inlet beluga whale population, since a port facility on the west side of Cook Inlet is necessary to bring materials in and slurry out.

Photo: NOAA Fisheries
Pebble Watch is a program of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Land Department.
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