09 August 2013

Free webinar hosted by the First Peoples Worldwide

"Engaging FPIC: Understanding, Interpretation and Self-determination"

The webinar begins at 7 a.m. Alaska Time and will focus on how Indigenous Peoples can hone their knowledge and skills about free, prior and informed consent and be better prepared to face the challenges of development in their communities.

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08 August 2013

Learn about "free, prior and informed consent"



Last-minute notice: Got plans for tomorrow at 7 a.m.? This Friday -- United Nations' International Day of the World's Indigenous People --- the First Peoples Worldwide (FPW) organization is offering a free webinar on Free andPrior Informed Consent (FPIC). The announcement caught our eye here at Pebble Watch due to an article at Indian Country Today Media Network, which makes a direct connection between FPIC and the Pebble mine issue.

The webinar focuses "how Indigenous Peoples can hone their knowledge and skills about free, prior and informed consent and be better prepared to face the challenges of development in their communities." It will feature an online panel, with opportunities for questions/answers afterwards through online chat or their Twitter feed.

When: Friday, August 9 at 7 a.m. Alaska Time.

How: Preregister here

Learn more

Read more about FPIC in this article from Indian Country Today Media Network

Related: Watch UN TV live Friday, August 9, at 11 a.m. Alaska Time for events related the International Day of the World's Indigenous People

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02 August 2013

Subcommittee on Oversight discusses EPA Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment

Screen shot 2013-08-02 at 2.33.16 PMHearings took place yesterday in Washington, D.C., regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. Members of the Subcommittee on Oversight questioned witnesses about the agency's assessment and the proposed Pebble mine. We've included some statements from committee members and witnesses and will follow up next week with additional details.

Chair of the Committee, Rep. Broun (R-GA) said that he has serious questions about how a mine can co-exist with fish in Bristol Bay, noting that, "If the Pebble mine will harm the fisheries and environment as some believe, it should not be allowed." However, Broun also has reservations about EPA's action in regard to potential Pebble mine. "We must allow due process under the law to find the facts. Laws and facts should drive the decision." 

Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY) believes that EPA should complete its watershed assessment and promptly move to take up 404(c) in order to protect the Bristol Bay environment. "Even if the mining company can do what so far no mining company has ever done in a wet environment and dig a massive open pit mine that results in no leaks, no accidents, no pollution, who can guarantee that the massive amount of waste left behind in the tailings dam will not leach out or that the dam will not fail?" 

Lowell Rothschild, senior counsel, Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, said that EPA is well within its authority to have undertaken the assessment. He provided testimony focused on the NEPA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process as it relates to mining activity and how that process compares to assessments EPA undertakes under Clean Water Act Section 104(a) and (b), like the one for Bristol Bay. He noted that EPA's watershed assessment is more general and more limited than an (EIS) would be and covers far fewer subjects than an EIS would. The assessment is not intended to be a substitute for an EIS. There are examples of avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures that would be addressed in an EIS that are not addressed in the watershed assessment. Full written testimony.

Michael Kavanaugh, senior principal, Geosyntec Consultants, and member, National Academy of Engineering - Kavanaugh's company, Geosyntec, was retained by Northern Dynasty Minerals to conduct an independent technical review of EPA's Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. In their view, EPA's report fails to properly consider modern mining methods and lacks credibility as a useful risk analysis. The 2013 assessment fails to meet scientific standards that would permit it to be used to inform future decisions on mining projects in the Bristol Bay watershed. Full written testimony.

Wayne Nastri, Co-president, E4 Strategic Solutions; Former Regional Administrator, USEPA Region 9 - Nastri testified personally that he found the conclusions of the EPA's Bristol Bay watershed assessment to be sound and, if anything, conservative. He submitted an independent letter signed by 300 scientists who are supportive of EPA's process. In his view, EPA needs to finalize its assessment and address the original request (from federally recognized tribes) for 404(c) action. At the very least, it should use its Clean Water Act authority to restrict any 404 discharge. Nastri noted that it is important for EPA to act soon in order to alleviate frustration and anxiety in Bristol Bay communities, as well as social impacts on youth and negative effects on other investment opportunities in the area. Full written testimony.

Daniel McGroarty, President, American Resources Policy Network - McGroarty's group is dedicated informing the American public and American policy-makers of the importance of U.S. resource development. He believes the EPA's assessment fails regarding the validity and impartiality of its source material, and that decisions about permitting the proposed Pebble mine should be left to the NEPA process. "We have a process in place to determine whether a mine should or shouldn’t be built. We should follow that process – to lead us to a policy based on science, and projects made better by the even-handed scrutiny they receive." Full written testimony. 

Learn more

This "hearing charter" gives some background on the topics addressed at the hearing. 

Watch the archived proceedings.

Read this news report about the hearing.



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26 July 2013

News roundup: Pebble project update and EPA watershed assessment news

In this week's round-up, news reports say Pebble will go to permitting by year-end, an EPA confirmation hearing brings attention to the cost of the Bristol Bay watershed assessment--and EPA tells one Bristol Bay community that it can not retract a report submitted for that assessment.

"Finishing plan top priority for Pebble"

The Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) continues to focus on completing its mine plan in a move toward starting permitting by the end of this year, according to an article by Tim Bradner in the Alaska Journal of Commerce. The draft plan will have three main parts: engineering/feasibility, environment, and economics. Bradner's article highlights PLP's shift from exploration to engineering, noting reductions in the number of drill rigs and crew operating this summer, as well as a lower budget ($80 million this year compared to $112 million in 2012.)

Read the full article (Alaska Journal of Commerce)

E&E news interview with Pebble CEO John Shively

In an E&E news report from earlier this summer, Manuel Quinones quotes Pebble Limited Partnership CEO John Shively saying there's a good chance the project will move into the permitting phase by the end of this year. Shively also comments on the EPA Bristol Bay watershed assessment and the nomination of Gina McCarthy as the new EPA administrator.

Read the full article (E&E news, as reprinted by www.savebristolbay.org)

EPA personnel hearings bring out details regarding its watershed assessment

Earlier this week Ken Kopocis answered questions about the EPA's Bristol Bay watershed assessment during a confirmation hearing for his nomination to become assistant administrator of the agency's water office. During the hearing, Kopocis noted that EPA had spent $2.4 million so far on the assessment. A previous letter to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works from EPA's acting water chief Nancy Stoner reiterated the agency's commitment to completing the document, stating that it is in the best interest of all stakeholders in Alaska.

Read the E&E article on EPA hearings  (E&E news, as reprinted by www.ndra.org)

Comments on EPA watershed assessment final

A recent Associated Press article highlighted the fact that public comments to the EPA are final once the official public input period is closed. On July 2, the Iliamna Village Council asked to retract a report it had submitted along with its comments to the EPA. According to an Associated Press article, professor emeritus at Colorado School of Mines Donald Macaldy was contracted by the village corporation to prepare an analysis of the EPA's Bristol Bay watershed assessment, and his report suggested broad impacts from proposed Pebble development. The Iliamna Village Council has voted to rescind the comments; EPA says they will remain part of the public record.

Read the full article. (AP, as run in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)

Read Macalady's report

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09 July 2013

Senator's letter highlights lack of mine plan

In a July 1 letter to the Pebble Limited Partnership, Northern Dynasty Minerals and Anglo American, Senator Lisa Murkowski has asked developers of the proposed Pebble mine to set – and stick to – a timeline for a project plan and permit applications.

“The time has come to tell Alaskans whether and how you plan to proceed,” wrote Murkowski, who also detailed a decade of delays and contradictory statements developers have made referencing a project plan or upcoming permit application. None has yet materialized, though PLP has repeatedly asked stakeholders to hold off judging its project prior to the release of an official mine plan.

So, what's taking PLP so long? In a 2012 interview,PLP spokesman Mike Heatwole told Pebble Watch that both the complexity of the plan and developers’ wishes to present the information community by community,in an easy-to-understand format, were factors.

“The plan isn’t just about how the mine will be built; it also includes other components, such as closure and long-term monitoring, said Heatwole. “We’re … spending significant time working our way through closure,” he said. Even then, said Heatwole, the plan won’t be complete, but will change in response to technical and public feedback. “It’s helpful for folks to understand that the project that gets initially rolled out and put into permitting is not a final.”

In her recent letter, Murkowski reminded developers that she is in opposition to any possible action the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency might take to protect the Bristol Bay watershed prior to the permitting process, but said that failure to describe the Pebble project or submit a permit application has left communities frustrated, anxious and confused instead of optimistic about the opportunities the Pebble project might bring.

According to news reports, John Shively, PLP’s CEO, said he has plans to respond to Senator Murkowski directly regarding her concerns.

Read Murkowski’s letter

Read the Pebble Watch Guide: “Getting ready for the mine plan” (including our interview with Mike Heatwole)

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30 June 2013

Deadline for public comment on revised EPA Bristol Bay watershed assessment

EPA Watershed Assessment – Deadline: June 30, 2013.

EPA released the revised version of its Bristol Bay watershed assessment in late April. Though a second public comment period wasn't originally planned, EPA opened one up in response to public interest. Just before the stated deadline of May 31, 2013, EPA also decided to extend this second commenting period another thirty days. The revised assessment has been both praised and criticized by different interest groups, and has garnered more than 330,000 comments to date.

Download the Pebble Watch guide to the revised assessment.

View the Pebble Watch guide online.

Go directly to Regulations.gov to submit your comments.


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20 June 2013

Public input high for EPA watershed assessment


The number of comments received for the revised version of EPA's Bristol Bay watershed assessment is now more than double the total that was received for the first draft of the document. According to a running tally at www.regulations.gov, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has received more than half a million responses to the revised draft of its Bristol Bay watershed assessment, the majority of which are in support of the assessment. Released in April 2013, the revision addressed areas that peer reviewers and members of the public critiqued during an initial public input period in spring/summer 2012.

The public comment period on the revised draft was initially scheduled to end on May 31, but was then extended for another 30 days by the EPA to give people more time to review it and submit comments. Since that time, both environmental and resource development interest groups have conducted mass mail campaigns to encourage individuals to engage in the comment period.

According to EPA Region 10's community involvement coordinator Judy Smith, there are a few more than 5,000 unique submissions, some of them with thousands of signatures. A search of mass-mail campaigns at the www.regulations.gov site shows that these efforts are spearheaded by groups such as Earthworks (with more than 46,500 responses) and Resourceful Earth (more than 160,000 responses), which have used social media sites such as Facebook to reach out to large audiences. (See samples of their posts below).



Download the Pebble Watch guide to the revised assessment.

View the Pebble Watch guide online.

Go directly to Regulations.gov to submit your comments.

Related reading:

Koch brothers take on enviro groups over mine(Washington Post blog, "The Fix")


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12 June 2013

Economic studies published on Bristol Bay fishing, proposed Pebble mine

A university study on the economic impact of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and an independent study commissioned by the Pebble partnership about the potential economic impact of the proposed Pebble mine have both hit the news recently, with both studies referenced in recent press articles.

Bristol Bay Salmon Industry

The Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) conducted "The Economic Importance of the Bristol Bay Salmon Industry" study for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, finding in a conservative estimate that the industry supports 10,000 jobs in the U.S. and has an output value of well over $1 billion annually.

Related news:

Senators Urge Obama to Block Alaska Mine They Say Threatens Fisheries (IndustryWeek)

Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery worth $1.5 billion (Cordova Times)


Proposed Pebble mine

Economic analysis firm IHS Global Insight completed a study for the Pebble partnership projecting the economic value of the proposed Pebble mine to the state and the nation. The 51-page report, Economic and Employment Contributions of a Conceptual Pebble Mine to the Alaska and United States Economies, estimates that the proposed mine would add "$136 to $180 million in annual taxes and royalties" to the state economy and could generate 4,725 jobs during the first five years of construction.

Related news:

Pebble study outlines impact (Bristol Bay Times)

Pebble mine impact to propel US and Alaskan economies (MiningWeekly)


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30 May 2013

Comment periods still open for watershed assessment and harbor seal status

Two public comment opportunities related to development in Bristol Bay are currently open.

EPA Watershed Assessment – Deadline: June 30, 2013.

EPA released the revised version of its Bristol Bay watershed assessment in late April. It had not planned on a second public comment period initially, but opened one up in response to public interest. Just before the stated deadline of May 31, 2013, EPA also decided to extend this second commenting period another 30 days. The revised assessment has been both praised and criticized by different interest groups, and has garnered more than 330,000 comments to date.

Download the Pebble Watch guide to the revised assessment.

View the Pebble Watch guide online.

Go directly to Regulations.gov to submit your comments.


Lake Iliamna harbor seal status – Deadline: August 16, 2013

IliamnaLake sm

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) ruled on a petition that the Center for Biological Diversity had submitted last November, seeking an endangered or threatened species status for harbor seals that live in Iliamna Lake. NOAA Fisheries determined that there was enough scientific or commercial information to warrant further study on the seal population before making a determination. NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment until August 16, 2013.

Since the comment period overlaps with the summer subsistence and commerical fishing season, NOAA Fisheries has extended the deadline in response to a request from Bristol Bay Native Association/Bristol Bay Marine Mammal Council.

However, the agency could not extend its November 2013 deadline for the completed status review, so is encouraging the public to submit comments as early as possible to allow NOAA Fisheries "more time to review and incorporate the submitted information where appropriate." Currently fewer than five public comments have been received on this topic.

If the harbor seal population is determined to be endangered or threatened, the designation would trigger additional requirements under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) for any development that may impact them or their habitat.

Photo: Courtesy NOAA/Dave Withrow. Harbor seals basking on a sandbar, Iliamna Lake, Summer 2011.

Read the NOAA Fisheries news release.

Read more about Lake Iliamna harbor seals, including the original petition for endangered/threatened status.

Go directly to Regulations.gov to submit your comments.


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30 May 2013

Public comment period extended to June 30

The public now has until June 30, 2013, to get in comments on EPA's revised draft Bristol Bay watershed assessment. The agency announced the 30-day extension Wednesday afternoon on its Bristol Bay information web page and by email.

EPA made the decision after receiving many requests, including some which asked them to maintain the 30-day comment period. The agency concluded that an extension of an additional 30 days to provide feedback was reasonable “given the complexity and length of the revised draft assessment."

The additional 30 days still falls short of requests made by some, like the Resource Development Council (RDC). In an open letter to EPA dated May 9, 2013, and posted on the RDC website, the organization asked for an extension of “at least 120 days to allow commenters ample time to provide feedback.” RDC’s letter also asked that EPA provide a detailed breakdown of changes made to the draft and expressed concern about the overall intent of the assessment.

Once the public comment period ends and EPA collects feedback from 12 peer reviewers, the Agency will proceed with finalizing the assessment in 2013, according to EPA’s announcement.

An EPA Fact Sheet provides an overview of the changes. Pebble Watch materials that may be helpful in understanding the assessment include our recent Pebble Watch Explores Special Edition about the newest revised draft  and the Pebble Watch Guide, a collection of many past Pebble Watch articles in one place.

Comments about the revised draft assessment may be submitted online, by email or in writing. View the document, find links for sending comments and read additional information on the web at www.epa.gov/bristolbay.

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