Public comment period passes for EPA determination for Pebble Mine project

Development and environmental groups call for action from agency
FILE - In this July 13, 2007, file photo, workers with the Pebble Mine project test drill in...
FILE - In this July 13, 2007, file photo, workers with the Pebble Mine project test drill in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, near the village of Iliamma.(AP Photo/Al Grillo, File)
Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 1:44 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The public comment period for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Proposed Determination to limit areas of the Bristol Bay watershed as waste disposal sites closed Tuesday, drawing reactions from groups on both sides of the argument to open Pebble Mine.

In May 2022, the EPA published a report pursuant to section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, stating that it intends to prevent the development of the mine, which would haul in gold, copper, and molybdenum, according to prospective developers. If built, the mine would be one of the largest in the world. Groups opposed to the mine say that development would ruin a valuable salmon habitat which brings in billions of dollars.

In November 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit application for the mine, stating that the project does not meet standards laid out in the Clean Water Act.

The EPA is extending the timeline to decide whether to proceed with the proposed restrictions until Dec. 2. The EPA concluded prior to the public comment period opening that development of such a mine would have adverse effects on the environment and salmon watershed.

“After evaluating available information, EPA Region 10 has reason to believe that unacceptable adverse effects on anadromous fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas) could result from the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with mining at the Pebble deposit as identified in the 2020 Mine Plan,” the agency said.

The Pebble Partnership, which advocates for the mine, submitted comments for the Proposed Determination, and on Wednesday called it “legally, environmentally and technically unsupported.”

“The EPA action is premature and it flies in the face of decades of regulatory precedent for fair and due process for development projects in Alaska and the nation,” the Pebble Partnership said in a press release. “The EPA’s actions are politically motivated, and in our comments today we spell out just how indefensible this veto process has become.”

Opponents of Pebble Mine celebrated the end of the comment period for the determination.

United Tribes of Bristol Bay Executive Director Alannah Hurley, said in a press release that over 2,500 residents of Bristol Bay and the surrounding communities voiced their opinions in the comment session, underscoring the vast majority of testimony that is against the mine.

“During the busiest season of the year, amidst a record-breaking salmon run, the people of Bristol Bay once again made it clear that EPA must finalize strong protections for our watershed and end the threat of Pebble Mine for good,” Hurley said. “Year after year, in every comment period and hearing held, over 95 percent of all comments and testimony call on the EPA to protect the pristine waters of Bristol Bay. Waters that sustain our indigenous way of life, provide half the world’s sockeye salmon, and contribute thousands of sustainable jobs year after year. The science and record are clear, EPA must finalize strong protections for our headwaters by the end of this year.”

The EPA is expected to release two more decisions on the Proposed Determination — a Recommended Determination, followed by a Final Determination.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.