Updated, with responses from officials.
Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today they will not extend the comment period for the Bristol Bay watershed assessment. The deadline for comment remains July 23.
“The 60-day comment period announced with the proposal is consistent with the length of time the Agency has historically provided for complex scientific assessments of comparable scope and detail,” the agency said in a written release.
In addition to the public comment process, the draft assessment will be evaluated by an independent peer review panel of scientists. EPA also has conducted outreach to the subsistence and commercial fishing community since the draft assessment was released to ensure they are able to provide comment to help inform any final assessment, along with input from other important stakeholders including the public, the agency said in the announcement.
“In order to ensure that the final assessment is released in a timely fashion, it is imperative that this process move forward on schedule,” the EPA said.
The EPA had received requests for an extension during its public meetings – held in Seattle May 31 and in Anchorage and the Bristol Bay region in early June – including requests from officials with Pebble Partnership and at least one member of the Congressional delegation.
Responses from officials regarding the EPA announcement
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the EPA’s budget.
“The EPA’s refusal to provide additional time for the public to comment on the draft watershed assessment for Bristol Bay demonstrates, once again, that the agency does not understand Alaska,” Murkowski said in a written release. “There is no deadline – other than the one arbitrarily imposed by the EPA – that requires the agency to act now.”
Murkowski raised her concerns about the limited comment period directly with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Murkowski said the comment period, which is currently scheduled to close July 23, coincides with the busy summer season in Alaska, when many Alaskans are out commercial or subsistence fishing.
“I’m disappointed that the EPA’s Washington-based leaders have failed to see the benefits of allowing Alaskans adequate time to comment on an assessment that could have significant consequences for the future of our state,” Murkowski said.
Bristol Bay Native Corporation President and CEO Jason Metrokin
“We commend the EPA for recognizing that further delay would not be beneficial,” Metrokin said in a written release. “The overwhelming participation at the public meetings held last month showed that the people who would be most affected by the decision – the people of Bristol Bay – had ample time to comment on the assessment and to be a part of this important process.”
Pebble Limited Partnership Executive Director John Shively, via the Cordova Times
Shively told the Cordova Times he felt there was not adequate time for review of the draft document for area residents, particularly those engaged in subsistence activities and commercial fishing.
“To me it is part of what we have seen as a rush to get this report done, and we don’t see why the rush,” Shively said. “Nothing is going to happen right away.”