Public comment period on Pebble Mine starting soon amidst controversy

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is opening a public comment period on the scope of the planned Pebble Mine in southwestern Alaska, and some lawmakers want the Environmental Protection Agency to pay attention.

The proposed copper and gold mine in Bristol Bay has been the source of controversy for several years as the fishing industry and other groups have fought against it, claiming such an operation could impact their operations and the environment.

The Corps plans eight meetings, scheduled from 9 to 19 April, to gather public comments and will also accept them online for 30 days starting on Sunday, 1 April. At the meetings, Corps officials will also give the public additional information about its process in developing the environmental impact statement. The draft statement is scheduled to be released in January, after which another public comment period will begin.

Bristol Bay is home to more than 50 million salmon, which produced an annual economic impact of USD 1.5 billion (EUR 1.21 billion). Mine proponents say the area holds about 80 billion pounds of copper and that it would help alleviate America’s need to import the mineral used for electrical wiring and other everyday needs. 

In January, the EPA released a statement upholding a ruling made by the administration of then-U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014 that placed restrictions on the proposed mine, saying it would significantly impact the bay’s sockeye salmon fishery. Scott Pruitt, the agency’s current administrator under the administration of President Donald Trump, said in January the order didn’t block the proposed mine outright. However, it would give the agency time to get information and determine the mine’s potential environmental impact.

Earlier this month, three Republican congressional leaders wrote to Pruitt with concerns over that decision, saying the 2014 ruling was unprecedented under the Clean Water Act. U.S. Representatives Lamar Smith, Rob Bishop, and Paul Gosar claim agency officials involved in assessing the proposal unduly influenced the decision. 

The congressional leaders urged Pruitt that if the Corps’ impact study addresses all the issues mentioned in the EPA’s 2014 decision, the agency should withdraw its decision.

“To further alleviate any environmental concerns that you may have regarding this process, the [House Natural Resources Committee] recommends that EPA Region 10 monitor the Corps’ scoping process and review any public comments filed therein,” they wrote, adding that using the Corps process will follow the Clean Water Act permitting process.

One name conspicuously absent from the letter was U.S. Rep. Don Young. The Republican represents the at-large district that includes all of Alaska, including Bristol Bay, and is the chair emeritus of the House Natural Resources Committee, which Bishop chairs. Young also serves as the vice chair for Indian Affairs and Oceans on the Congressional Western Caucus, led by Gosar.


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