Congressional requests and hotline complaints are prompting the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General to take a look at the process behind the now completed Bristol Bay watershed assessment.
The EPA Inspector General’s office said in a memo issued on May 2 that it wants to be sure the agency followed all the rules in developing its assessment.
The EPA announced back on Feb. 28 that it was initiating the 404 (c) regulatory process, because of the threat to the Bristol Bay watershed posed by the Pebble deposit, a mine unprecedented in scope and scale, to ensure protection for the world famous sockeye salmon fishery of Bristol Bay. The action was based on information that includes extensive data collected for the watershed assessment.
Section 404 (c) authorizes the EPA to prohibit or restrict use of a defined area as a disposal site if it is determined that the discharge of such materials in that area will have an unacceptable adverse affect on fishery areas, municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and recreational areas.
The Canadian mining company bankrolling the Pebble project contends that the EPA doesn’t have the statutory authority to undertake pre-emptive action related to the future of the mine. Ron Thiessen, president and chief executive officer of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson Inc., a diversified global mining group, said May 6 that documents the mining company has obtained paint “the picture of an agency launching a watershed assessment to justify a pre-determined outcome.”
While backers of the Pebble project have invested upwards of $720 million into the project to date, they have yet to submit applications to permit the mine. They want the state, rather than the federal government, to decide whether the mine can be built and operated in harmony with the fisheries.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, sides with the mine backers on this, saying they must be given due process allowed under the existing permitting process, lest there be a chilling effect on development across Alaska and the nation.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, has defended the EPA’s action, saying Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place.