2014

24 March 2014

News Roundup: 404(c) and HB77 dominate Pebble-related news

EPA's Section 404(c) announcement and resulting subpoena dominates national news on Pebble; at the state level, public response stalls House Bill 77, while a judgment stalls the "Save our Salmon" initiative.

Responses to EPA's 404(c) decision

EPA's decision to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to pursue protections for Bristol Bay was met with positive reactions from some - and a subpoena from others.

Leaders, Stakeholders React After EPA's Pebble Mine Announcement (February 28, 2014 - Alaska Dispatch)

Many had been waiting to see how EPA would respond to Tribes that had requested a 404(c) action to protect Bristol Bay. When the EPA announced that it would indeed initiate the rarely-used 404(c) process, there were mixed reactions. Rounded up here by the Alaska Dispatch, they range from "federal overreach on steroids" (Alaska State Senator Cathy Giessel) to the first steps in a "significant conservation achievement" (Trout Unlimited President Chris Wood). Read the full story.

Pictures: Photographer Who Shot Bristol Bay Celebrates Halt of Pebble Mine (March 2, 2014 - National Geography Daily News)

National Geographic piece features Michael Melford's compelling photos of Bristol Bay, along with his reaction to the EPA's 404(c) announcement. Read the full story.

EPA Tells Miners to Keep Out of Alaska's Bristol Bay and They Aren't Buying It (February 28, 2014 - Business Week online)

Business Week report includes comments from Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier, who said EPA's 404(c) action is "insignificant" and that he believes the process "will ultimately not prevent him from developing the Pebble Mine." Read the full story.

Issa Subpoenas EPA for Pebble Mine Documents (March 21, 2014 - House Committee press release)

The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has subpoenaed the EPA for documents related to its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and subsequent announcement that it is beginning a process under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to seek protections for Bristol Bay. Read the full story.

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Special edition publication focuses on EPA and Bristol Bay

epaguide coverPebble Watch has published a special edition focusing on the U.S. EPA and Bristol Bay. The newsletter offers an impartial resource for understanding the agency's Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and ongoing 404(c) process.

Read online • Download and print PDF

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18 March 2014

EPA grants extension in first step of 404(c) process

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted the State of Alaska and the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) an extension to the "consultation period," one of the first steps in the official 404(c) process the agency initiated to protect the Bristol Bay fishery. The extension lasts until April 29, 2014, an additional 45-days beyond the minimum 15-day window for this stage in the process.

The extension falls short of what the State had requested, which was to stay the 404(c) review completely until a permit application could be filed and reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act. In letters to the State and to PLP, EPA clarified that a permit application can be filed and reviewed, but that “a permit for the Pebble Mine may not be issued while a section 404(c) review is underway.”

What is the "consultation period"?

The consultation period gives project proponents the opportunity to demonstrate to EPA that no unacceptable adverse effects will occur in the Pebble deposit area. "The first step in this process is to reach out to the state, to the mining companies and to the Army Corps and to ask them for whatever information they want to provide," said EPA Chief Administrator Gina McCarthy during the February 28 press conference announcing the decision too use the 404(c) process.

"EPA put out a scientific assessment that's been peer reviewed at least a few times by a range of scientists who worked with the agency to make sure it was comprehensive," said McCarthy. "That doesn't mean that the science is a final tool for this agency... We're still open...This is all about getting more information in and making sure we listen to the full range of issues and concerns and ideas that the company might have, that the state might have, that the Army Corps might have available to it."

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14 March 2014

Additional public hearings scheduled for HB77

 

HB77, which proposed to “streamline” Alaska’s permitting process is now up for consideration by the Alaska State Senate. The Department of Natural Resources testified Monday, with an initial public hearing on Wednesday. An additional public input period has been scheduled for Friday, March 14 at 3:30 p.m. Citizens may contact their local Legislative Information Office to find out how to participate in the hearing.

For more coverage of HB77, read this Pebble Watch story.

State HB77 page with links to full text of the bill.

Reserving Water for Instream Use (State of Alaska description)

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12 March 2014

Public hearings scheduled for HB77

HB77, which proposed to “streamline” Alaska’s permitting process is now up for consideration by the Alaska State Senate. The Department of Natural Resources testifies on Monday, with a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, March 12 at 3:30 p.m. Citizens may contact their local Legislative Information Office to find out how to participate in the hearing.

For more coverage of HB77, read this Pebble Watch story.

State HB77 page with links to full text of the bill.

Reserving Water for Instream Use (State of Alaska description)

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11 March 2014

HB77 bill changes address some concerns

UPDATE: An additional public input period has been scheduled for Friday, March 14, at 3:30 p.m. 


The Alaska State Senate is considering HB77, a bill that was designed to streamline permitting, but which has drawn much concern from the public since passed by the House a year ago. Yesterday, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) provided testimony to the Senate, including documents that reflect revisions to HB77 in response to some of those concerns.

Pebble Watch previously reported on a hearing where members of the public voiced many concerns. Below is our summary of those issues and how they've been handled in the latest version of HB77. Public testimony for the new version of HB77 is scheduled for Wednesday, March 12, at 3:30 p.m. Contact your Legislative Information Office to find out how to participate.

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10 March 2014

Public hearings scheduled Wednesday for HB77

HB77, which proposed to “streamline” Alaska’s permitting process is now up for consideration by the Alaska State Senate. The Department of Natural Resources testifies on Monday, with a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, March 12 at 3:30 p.m. Citizens may contact their local Legislative Information Office to find out how to participate in the hearing.

For more coverage of HB77, read this Pebble Watch story.

State HB77 page with links to full text of the bill.

Reserving Water for Instream Use (State of Alaska description)

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28 February 2014

EPA Begins Process To Protect Bristol Bay Fishery

EPA's Chief Administrator Gina McCarthy has just announced that the agency will pursue a Section 404(c) under the Clean Water Act in Bristol Bay to protect the fishery. "The Bristol Bay fishery is an extraordinary resource, worthy of out-of-the-ordinary agency actions to protect it."

 

Link:  http://www2.epa.gov/bristolbay

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15 February 2014

Examining Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act

March 2014 note: View an update to the 404(c) process chart seen below.

Now that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has completed its study of the Bristol Bay watershed, it must respond to a request from several federally recognized Tribes that have asked the agency to protect the area from impacts of large-scale mining. Specifically, the Tribes asked EPA to prohibit development in the Bristol Bay watershed by using Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. This article explains Section 404(c) and describes the process EPA would likely use if it were to decide to initiate it.

Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, aimed to limit the release of toxic chemicals into our nation’s waterways and keep surface waters safe for human sport and recreation. Section 404 of the act regulates dredge and fill materials entering wetlands, streams or other waters. Under Section 404, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues permits for activities that would place fill in wetlands. The permitting process requires that projects show they can take appropriate steps to avoid, minimize, and offset adverse impacts.

EPA’s authority: Section 404(c)

The EPA, which oversees the Dredge and Fill program, has the ultimate say in whether permits are issued. If a permitted discharge of fill would result in a “significant loss or damage to fisheries, shellfishing, or wildlife habitat or recreation areas,” Part c of Section 404 authorizes the EPA to essentially “veto” those dredge and fill permits. The EPA’s veto power has been used sparingly. According to the Corps of Engineers, 60,000 permits are processed each year. EPA has utilized its veto authority 13 times in the 42 years since the act was passed, and never in Alaska. The EPA does not have to wait until developers apply for a Dredge and Fill Permit to utilize its Section 404(c) authority. If the agency determines that discharging fill would have unacceptable adverse impacts, it can withdraw or restrict an area to disposal of fill before a permit application has been submitted. In fact, in all but two of the 404(c) actions EPA has taken, it has initiated the process before a permit was issued.

What’s the process for restricting an area under 404(c)?

If EPA were to use its Section 404(c) authority to limit or restrict mining in the Bristol Bay watershed, it would be required to follow a systematic process (see graphic), including a public comment period.

404cprocess4small

What happens if EPA does not use 404(c) authority?

Since Anglo American withdrew from the Pebble project last fall, Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM) has been looking for a new investor. NDM CEO Ron Thiessen has stated that the developer’s Board of Directors will make a decision this year on whether to move into permitting, with or without a new investor. An application for a Dredge and Fill permit would trigger the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which involves multiple opportunities for public involvement; scientific analyses of environmental, economic and social impacts; and specific requirements for mitigation of potential impacts. The NEPA process would require several years.

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U.S. EPA: About 404c

List of previously vetoed projects.

Seattle Journal of Environmental Law article: “Using Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to Prohibit the Unacceptable Environmental Impacts of the Proposed Pebble Mine”

 

This article previously referenced a "current" 404(c) process underway in Kentucky state. However, that case has been resolved and did not lead to 404(c) action by the EPA.

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05 February 2014

Scientists urge EPA action; agency will decide ‘soon’

A story in the Anchorage Daily News reports that EPA's Dennis McLerran was in town this week, addressing attendees at the Alaska Forum on the Environment. In his presentation, McLerran noted that he would be making a decision soon about how to respond to a 2010 request from Alaska tribes asking the agency to enact protections in Bristol Bay.

Before he spoke, McLerran was presented with a letter urging EPA to pursue action to prohibit development in Bristol Bay. It was signed by 360 scientists from throughout the U.S. and countries such as Australia, France and Scotland.

Read the story.

Read the letter.

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