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Public comment period opens on Pebble Mine water quality certification

The deadline to comment on the state issued certification is August 24.
Exploratory equipment at the Pebble deposit, the proposed site of Pebble Mine.
Exploratory equipment at the Pebble deposit, the proposed site of Pebble Mine.(KTUU)
Published: Jul. 25, 2020 at 6:34 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - With the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Pebble Mine now published, the public has a chance to comment on one certification that the State of Alaska must issue before the Army Corps of Engineers can give the Pebble Partnership a permit under the Clean Water Act.

Section 401 of the Clean Water Act gives states and authorized tribes a tool to protect water quality of federally regulated water within their borders.

Before the Army Corps can authorize a permit allowing the Pebble Partnership to discharge dredged or fill material into streams or wetlands, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation must grant a certification that the project will not violate existing water quality laws. The State may also choose to issue a waiver of this certification which would allow the Army Corps to proceed with issuing an authorization. The State also has the authority to deny the certification.

The publication of the project’s Final EIS in the Federal Register marked the beginning of the official CWA Part 401 review process, including a 30 day public comment period.

Lindsey Bloom, a commercial fisherman and campaign strategist with SalmonState said she would be digging into the Final EIS to see what it says the project would do to water quality.

“What I’m going to be looking for in that document is the analysis and rationale that the Corps and Pebble provides to tell me that this project is not going to violate Alaska’s water quality standards,” Bloom said. “Everything I’ve seen that’s been proposed and was in the Draft EIS and what has to happen in order for the infrastructure and the project to be developed, there are going to be violations of Alaska’s water quality standards. And so at this point, that tells me that DEC’s authority and obligation  will be not to certify this project.”

If the Department of Environmental Conservation does not issue a Section 401 certification or waiver, the Army Corps cannot issue a permit under the Clean Water Act.

Bloom says she’s concerned that DEC may not give the application a rigorous review because DEC Commissioner Jason Brune’s history with Pebble Mine. Brune’s confirmation by the Alaska legislature was contentious, given he worked for Anglo American, a major mining company and former partner in the Pebble Partnership.

“And so as to whether or not he’ll make a water quality science based decision about this certification or not, I feel really doubtful and I do think that he should be recused from that decision,” Bloom said.

Commissioner Brune provided Channel 2 with the following statement:

“I will not recuse myself from anything pertaining to Pebble, especially as I have no financial interests in the project. I have long said that all projects, including Pebble, need to meet the high regulatory thresholds set by the state and federal permitting agencies. It is to Alaskans’ benefit that I have experience in this industry, and will bring that experience to bear in ensuring that our public health and environment are protected. I also have full confidence in my team and will give deference to their expertise.”

Jason Brune, Commissioner, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The public comment period for the Section 401 certification ends August 24. CLICK HERE to view the public notice, including instructions on how to submit comments.

The Pebble Project’s Final EIS is available at pebbleprojecteis.com. The section addressing water and sediment quality is attached below.

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