Pebble opponents, backers take their case to Congress
The sparring over the proposed Pebble Mine left the state and found another venue: Capitol Hill.
On Wednesday morning, House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, which oversees the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water programs, held a hearing on the permitting process underway.
While the hearing site may have changed, the differences over the project have not. Those opposing the project for its Bristol Bay location — the headwaters to one of the nation’s most prolific salmon fisheries — say it’s being fast-tracked by the Trump administration.
Supporters say the permit and draft environmental impact statement (EIS) under review by the Army Corps of Engineers illustrates the mine can safely be built and represents no threat to the fisheries.
Before those testifying could get a turn, some committee members weighed in. Committee Chair Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-California, questioned the process and actions taken by the EPA.
Napolitano took issue with the series of events that unfolded this year.
“I’m not convinced if we continue to let the process play out, as proponents of the mine suggest, we will end up with a final decision based not on good science and data,” she said. “We need evidence in that this project is being properly reviewed and so far I have not seen that.”
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, is not on the subcommittee, but along with others members of Congress, was invited to speak. Young joined a few committee members, calling the hearing a waste of time.
“We’re all talking about drafts here,” he said. “These are not final products. I think everybody at that table, both sides, have made up their mind already. This is about science. I don’t see much science here.”
Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier stood by the process.
“For over 15 years there’s been a raging debate about whether you can build a copper mine 200 river miles away from Bristol Bay without doing significant damage to the salmon fishery in Bristol Bay,” he said. “But today, I’m here to tell you that debate is now over.
"In February the Corps of Engineers issued for the first time an independent, transparent, comprehensive review of all of the science and concluded unequivocally and repeatedly that building Pebble Mine will not cause any damage to the fishery of Bristol Bay.”
Alannah Hurley, executive director for the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, said the prospects of a mine has, “been a dark cloud over Bristol Bay for the last 15 years.”
“While our people have opposed Pebble for nearly two decades, our recent experience with the Army Corps of Engineers has made it clear to us the government is paving the way for Pebble regardless of the consequences,” she said.
She disputed Collier's position on the draft EIS.
"Why is the Army Corps rushing a timeline that does not match up with any realities in Bristol Bay? Studies remain undone. Data gaps remain unfilled. And the draft EIS has been universally condemned by the scientific community, by other federal agencies and by our people for its lack for thorough analysis of this project and its impact to the people of Bristol Bay.”
The mine is waiting on a key decision from the Army Corps of Engineers that should come in early 2020. The final review could be released as early as February.
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