Response to Tribes is EPA’s next focus

After three years developing a final Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, the question for many is, “What will EPA do next?” Will the agency take steps to restrict development in Bristol Bay? No answers to these questions were forthcoming at a Jan. 14 press conference announcing the final assessment—which was described as a strictly scientific document.

The agency’s next focus, said EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran, will be to respond to the Bristol Bay Tribes who in 2010 asked EPA to use its little-used 404(c) authority to stop the development of large-scale mining in Bristol Bay.

(Above: Residents of New Stuyahok, in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, meet with representatives from EPA during a visit the agency made to the area while developing its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.)

“A response to the Tribes is what we’re most concerned about developing next,” McLerran said. Developing that response, he added “will begin immediately now that we do have the scientific assessment in front of us”—but there was not yet a specific timeline or process set for doing so.

EPA has said it understands the importance of Bristol Bay to the subsistence lifestyle of the area’s residents and believes that the region warrants attention as the location of both the largest sockeye fishery in the world and the largest copper deposit in the world.

With respect to whether EPA thought a mining project and the fishery could coexist, McLerran said, “I think that the assessment speaks for itself.” However, any recommendation for regulatory action would require an additional process, in which the recommendation would come from Region 10 and would need to be approved by higher levels of EPA administration.

If the agency decided to pursue a 404(c) action,that, too, would involve a public process apart from the watershed assessment. Watch for an upcoming Pebble Watch article about 404(c) and what that process would look like.

Web-Find: ‘Engaging Bristol Bay Communities’
Read EPA’s account of its interactions with Bristol Bay’s Tribal and Alaska Native communities, information on traditional knowledge, and a list of the Tribes, and Alaska Native village and regional entities they met with in this section of EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment web pages: Engaging Bristol Bay Tribal Communities.

From the Pebble Watch Archives
EPA visits Bristol Bay (Pebble Watch newsletter, July 2011)

Pebble Watch attended EPA watershed assessment updates and other meetings held June 2 and 3 in the Bristol Bay region. The visits provided a forum to speak with top assessment decision-markers, including Richard Parkin, the assessment’s lead manager; EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s senior policy adviser, and representatives from EPA’s Seattle-based Region 10.

In Ekwok, community members told EPA guests about the high cost of gas and shipping to the Bush, and the importance of clean water to their diet. Explained village administrator Richard King: “You guys go to your grocery stores; we go to the river, to the woods.”

“That’s our dinner table,” echoed a man in New Stuyahok, where the meeting attracted about 40 – including elders assisted by Yup’ik translation over headset. Residents thanked EPA, then described living off wild game, such as moose and caribou, their enjoyment of spawned-out salmon (“a delicacy”), and the health benefits of a wild diet.

Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) then joined a boat tour up the Nushagak River to the Koktuli, which included a dinner break of subsistence foods hosted in a warm cabin and a hike to a bird’s eye view of the Pebble prospect area and local watershed. The watershed assessment update in Dillingham immediately followed a mining information session. About 80 attended, including former Alaska first lady Bella Hammond and local State Representative Bryce Edgmon. Another dozen attended a mining information session in Newhalen.