From the Fleet: Keep Fighting for Science Based Permitting Process
September 1, 2019
Sitting on the sidelines is no longer a legitimate choice when it comes to the issue of constructing the Pebble Mine.
You've likely read the Bristol Bay headlines by now. It was the second largest harvest on record. Last year's Nushagak bonanza was balanced out by Egegik's 2019 record breaker. Bristol Bay's portfolio of salmon systems is performing as well as ever.
You've probably also seen the confusing and contradictory Pebble Mine headlines. First, EPA scientists, along with other federal agencies, state of Alaska biologists and hundreds of thousands of Americans weighed in on the Army Corps of Engineers Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Pebble Mine, citing huge data gaps, indefensible conclusions and a total lack of confidence in the findings of the EIS.
Shockingly, two weeks after EPA Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick wrote "Region 10 finds that this project as described... may have substantial and unacceptable adverse impacts on fisheries resources in the project area watersheds, which are aquatic resources of national importance," he announced that the EPA was withdrawing the 404c protections that were requested by Bristol Bay fishermen, tribes and businesses several years ago.
You read that right. EPA issued a scathing letter, highly critical of the Army Corps work, but then went ahead and removed the protections it put in place to avoid the impacts Hladick described in his letter. Clearly, Hladick and EPA region got rolled. Word is Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy asked for this rollback when President Trump met him in Anchorage as Air Force One refueled. In fact, Pebble's CEO publicly thanked the governor for his help. This is a clear-cut case of political rather than scientific decision making, which makes a mockery of the environmental analysis process, and is a terrible betrayal of the public trust.
At the beginning of the fishing season, EPA officials met with a group of us in a Dillingham boatyard to discuss the Pebble Mine and the EPA's Clean Water Act protections. Those officials looked us in the eye and claimed to be there without any agenda, yet in hindsight it's clear that their visit to Bristol Bay was simply preparation for their reversal. Adding insult to injury, the Pebble Limited Partnership and its investors knew about the EPA's reversal before anyone else, even though Bristol Bay's fishermen are the ones whose jobs could be lost. There is no evidence of any real intention by this administration to protect Bristol Bay's hard-working fishing families. We have long been promised decisions based on science and transparency, but instead it has devolved into an egregious display of political smoke and mirrors.
So what's next? We will have to keep fighting for a fair, science-based permitting process; fighting for accountability of our federal agencies and that they uphold their legal responsibilities and duties. We'll continue to push for these things as long as we have to. The EPA's reversal only increases the urgency of our efforts.
Ultimately, our congressional delegation is responsible for ensuring that the public can trust our federal agencies to be transparent and that we can have confidence in our federal permitting. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and their colleagues can and must bring balance, science and reason back into the environmental analysis surrounding the most important development issue in Alaska in more than a generation.
As Bristol Bay Native Corporation CEO Jason Metrokin recently stated, "One thing is certain: the people of Bristol Bay will not stand down." With that in mind we are all hoping that our senators are ready to stand with us for Bristol Bay.
Finally, in a recent press release on her measure recognizing 2019 as the "International Year of the salmon" Senator Lisa Murkowski stated, "supporting salmon means supporting food security, marine ecosystems, Alaska Native culture, coastal communities, and economies... salmon indicate the health of rivers and oceans that people, fish, and wildlife depend on." I am hopeful that this rhetoric will translate into action and that protecting Bristol Bay will become a 2019 "International Year of the salmon" legacy that Alaska's Senior Senator and her colleagues in Congress will look back and be proud of.
Lindsey Bloom is the program manager for Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay and campaign specialist for SalmonState.