September 2014

30 September 2014

Feds: State must improve election info for Alaska Natives

yupikballot

A recent U.S. District Court ruling found that the state hasn't done enough in the past to ensure Alaska Native voters can understand issues appearing on the ballot before election day. Challenges for the Alaska Division of Elections include adequately translating bureaucratic language, providing enough information in advance of election day and meeting the needs of voters who speak a different dialect of a particular Alaska Native language.

Currently the Alaska Division of Elections has made audio versions of the Nov. 4 ballot measures available in several Alaska Native languages: Central Yup'ik, Siberian Yup'ik, Inupiaq, Koyukon Athabascan and Gwich'in Athabascan. A written translation of the ballot is available in Yup'ik.

On its language assistance page, the state describes an approach that focuses on written translation assistance for languages that have historically been written, and oral assistance for languages that are historically unwritten (such as Alaska Native languages).

As a result of the recent court ruling, the state was required to craft a plan to meet the informational needs of Alaska Native voters in a more substantive way. The state released its plan on Sept. 9, saying it would work to let people know language assistance is available, will prepare outreach workers to give language assistance, and will address dialectical differences in ballot language translations.

Attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund, which represents Yup'ik and Gwich'in language speakers, responded with a request for additional changes before the Nov. 4 election.

A judge has yet to rule on the state's plan and the response from plaintiffs.

 

Learn more

About language assistance (Alaska Division of Elections)

Alaska Native voters win another civil rights battle (Indian Country Today, Sept. 5, 2014)

State presents election translation plan (Alaska Public, Sept. 9, 2014)

Alaska Native speakers' attorneys spell out election translation needs (KNBA, Sept. 16, 2014)

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25 September 2014

PLP vs. EPA: one case dismissed, the other rescheduled

There was movement last week in both cases Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) has brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Timing is a consideration in both.

"Statutory authority" case dismissed - On Friday, Judge H. Russel Holland dismissed a case PLP filed last May that questioned EPA's authority to review the potential risks that could results from mining the Pebble depsoit under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act before PLP files for a 404 permit. EPA has overisght authority over all 404(c) permitting but has only very rarely exercised that authority before a permit application had been filed. Judge Holland dismissed the case as premature, saying the agency has just begun its deliberations and has not made a final decision or action. Also supporting this decision was the judge's determination that PLP has not incurred any "loss of rights" or "imposition of obligations" as a result of EPA's ongoing process. In response, PLP CEO Tom Collier said the company would pursue its claims again if EPA finalizes proposed restrictions at the Pebble deposit.

"FACA/APA" case hearing rescheduled - This civil case, filed by PLP in early September, alleges that EPA violated both the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) when determining whether it would initiate Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. Last week EPA and PLP agreed to a briefing schedule on PLP's motion for a preliminary injunction which the court intends to resolve no later than Dec. 3, 2014. Additionally, EPA agreed that it would not move on to the next step in the 404(c) process until at least Jan. 2, 2015. EPA had already notified the public that it had extended the timeframe for this next step until no later than Feb. 4, 2015, citing the hundreds of thousands of public comments that need to be reviewed. The next step in the process is either to release a "Recommended Determination" detailing how it intends to restrict disposal of dredge/fill material at the Pebble deposit area, or to withdraw its "Proposed Determination."

Read more

Judge dismisses Pebble lawsuit as premature (Alaska Dispatch News, September 26, 2014)

PLP's Tom Collier describes efforts to fight EPA  (PebbleWatch, September 8, 2014)

About Section 404(c)

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20 September 2014

EPA extends timeframe for next step in 404(c) process

404cExtensionCiting the time it would take to review thousands of public comments submitted in response to a Proposed Determination to restrict dredge/fill disposal in the Pebble deposit area of Bristol Bay, Alaska, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it is extending the typical timeframe for the next stage in the 404(c) process initiated in February 2014.

Typically, once public hearings are complete, EPA has 30 days to either withdraw the Proposed Determination or finalize a Recommended Determination, which is then submitted to EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., (see our chart of the entire 404(c) process).

According to EPA's announcement:

"EPA believes that more time is necessary to adequately review and consider the many thousands of comments we have received. In order to allow full consideration of the extensive administrative record, including public comments, we are extending the time period to withdraw the Proposed Determination or to prepare the Recommended Determination until no later than February 4, 2015."

Learn more

Notice of extension (Federal Register)

Review public comments

EPA Proposed Determination

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19 September 2014

Deadline for public comment

Comments on the Environmental Protection Agency's Proposed Determination -- which details restrictions for development of a large-scale mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska -- are due today by 8 pm Alaska Time.

More info

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11 September 2014

"Bristol Bay Forever Initiative"

"Bristol Bay Forever" is a public initiative that voters approved in November 2014. It requires legislative approval in order to develop a large-scale metallic sulfide mine within the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.

Opponents of the initiative have said they will bring legal challenges to "Bristol Bay Forever," contending that it is unconstitutional. See this PebbleWatch article or review proponent/opponent arguments in the "Alaska Common Ground" section below.

 

Documents

Proposed Bill Language

Attorney General Review of Petition

Language that appeared on the Ballot

 

Alaska Common Ground Forum

In August 2014, Alaska Common Ground featured "Bristol Bay Forever" in a debate series on public initiatives. Video/audio and original presentations from that debate are posted at the Alaska Common Ground website.

Video: Bristol Bay Forever public debate (courtesy Alaska Commons)

Audio: Bristol Bay Forever public debate (courtesy Alaska Integrated Media)

Edited audio version (Alaska Public.org)

Moderator Dick Mylius presentation

"Yes" advocate Anders Gustafson presentation

Opponent Deantha Crockett presentation

Opponent Richard Hughes presentation 

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08 September 2014

PLP's Tom Collier describes efforts to fight EPA

Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier says his company is “punching back” at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its efforts to employ a rarely used section of the Clean Water Act to place restrictions on mining at the Pebble deposit in Bristol Bay. Speaking at a Resource Development Council breakfast earlier this month, Collier described Pebble’s plans to fight EPA’s use of the 404(c) process, including litigation and lobbying for an investigation into how EPA went about creating its recent Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.

EPA officials are currently reviewing hundreds of thousands of public comments on proposed restrictions for the area before it decides whether to drop the action or continue on with the next step in the 404(c) process - drafting a Recommended Determination.

Lawsuits against the EPA

Collier said PLP’s first offensive begins in the courts.

  • PLP filed suit against EPA in May 2014 in federal court questioning the agency's statutory authority to use the 404(c) process before PLP submits its permitting documents. Collier expects a ruling by October. Several other parties have intervened in the case, including: the state of Alaska and the Alaska Peninsula Corp. in support of PLP. Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Trustees;for Alaska (representing Nunamta Alukestai),Trout Unlimited and the National Resource Defense Council have intervened in support of the EPA.
  • In September, PLP filed a complaint alleging collusion between EPA and "anti-mining coalitions" that would violate regulations stipulated in the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Collier noted documents obtained from the EPA through a Freedom of Information Act request support PLP's allegations that anti-mining parties helped EPA write its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, gave advice to EPA on how to respond to Alaska Gov. Parnell, and held briefings directly with EPA's Region 10 Administrator.

Inspector General investigation- PLP made repeated requests and complaints to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) regarding EPA's process conducting the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. In May 2014 the OIG announced it would investigate whether the agency followed laws, regulations, policies and procedures when it developed the assessment. Collier indicated that a team of five EPA staff is working on the investigation.

Response to EPA’s Proposed Determination - A team of scientists and lawyers worked on PLP's response to EPA's Proposed Determination. Collier encouraged RDC attendees to respond as well.

Additional Plans - If none of these plans work, said Collier, he noted there are several more lined up to continue the fight, although he didn’t provide specifics.

Beyond Pebble? - Collier outlined what he said are EPA/environmental movement plans for “Zoning America,” with Pebble being the first step in the process. He noted tribes in Wisconsin and Michigan recently asked EPA to step in with 404(c) actions in their regions. "It lets EPA zone America for where mining should happen, where oil and gas exploration should happen - before anybody files a permit." He also referenced a comment from a friend who is a "giant in the environmental movement" who had said the country needs "broader watershed planning" rather than case-by-case decisions. "That's what the environmental community is up to. That's why they are doing this...It's already started. We're going to see this all over America and we are particularly going to see this in Alaska. And we've got to stop them."

Mount Polley - Collier also addressed the tailings dam breach in August at Mount Polley mine in British Columbia, Canada, calling it a disaster that would provide lessons for mining companies all over the world. He cautioned that it's too soon to draw any conclusions about the breach, which released billions of gallons of wastewater and slurry into the surrounding watershed. The Mount Polley Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) was not designed to contain the amount of water that had been added to it, said Collier. He explained that Pebble’s mine plan includes a wastewater treatment plant, which he said makes for an entirely different scenario. Collier said he anticipated an investigation on the breach to be complete before December.

Watch Collier's presentation

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05 September 2014

EPA plans webinar overview of Proposed Determination

webinarThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has scheduled online presentations Tuesday and Wednesday, during which agency staff will provide an overview of the Proposed Determination on restrictions at the Pebble deposit area in Bristol Bay.

This event is an additional way of learning more about the document before the public input period ends  on September 19. 

Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2-3 pm AK Time

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 8-9 am AK Time

For full details, visit EPA's Bristol Bay site.

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04 September 2014

2 weeks remain in public comment period for EPA restrictions in Bristol Bay

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it has received roughly 130,000 public comments on the Proposed Determination it released last month. This is in addition to testimony from nearly 300 people received during recent public meetings in Alaska.

Thousands of comments are coming in through mass-media campaigns run by advocacy groups on both sides of the issue, a trend that EPA is seeing more frequently, especially with social media making it easier for groups to get the word out.

This approach is what pushed the number of comments on EPA's Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment to historic proportions, at more than 1 million.

But according to a public comment tip sheet at regulations.gov, many in the public mistakenly believe that their submitted form letter constitutes a "vote" regarding the issues that concern them:

"Although public support or opposition may help guide important public policies, agencies make determinations for a proposed action based on sound reasoning and scientific evidence, not a majority of votes. A single, well-supported comment may carry more weight than a thousand form letters."

The convenience of supporting a position with the click of a button likely contributes to the popularity of the mass-media campaign.

However, a message that combines convenience with an individual message – either an addition
or other changes to a form letter – brings your own perspective to the comment. This could give your message greater weight in the overall conversation.

The public input period is open until 8 p.m. Alaska Time, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014.

Check out these resources for more information:

Pebble Watch Overview of Proposed Determination

Pebble Watch Guide to Public Comments

Tips for Submitting Effective Comments

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