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.”

Is an extension typical?

The 404(c) action itself is rare enough that it is not possible to say what is “typical.” However, EPA did anticipate the extension request. During the press conference, EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran noted: “Our rules have a 15-day response time, but we fully expect we’ll get a request to extend that time and that we’ll have additional time for a dialogue back and forth.”

How long will the process take?

Based on past 404(c) proceedings, the process usually takes about a year. But the Pebble 404(c) could require more time due to an unprecedented amount of public interest. No dredge and fill permits in the Pebble deposit area may be granted while this process is ongoing.

What are other steps in the 404(c) process?

EPA must follow specific steps to complete the process, including a public comment period and public hearings. See our graphic guide to the process.

Read more

EPA Bristol Bay web site

EPA Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment 

Pebble Watch guide to the U.S. EPA and Bristol Bay

Read EPA’s extension notices to: State of AlaskaPebble Limited Partnership