EPA chief heads to Pebble Mine on ‘fact-finding’ mission

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy arrived in Alaska earlier this week to talk global warming and embark on a “fact-finding”  mission about a proposed mine near the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

“Right now we’re in a fact-finding mode to make sure we get the science correct and we understand the impacts in that area,” McCarthy said. “Then we will work on what that means for decisions.”

McCarthy’s arrival was met with mixed feelings from Pebble Mine supporters and calls from environmentalists for the EPA to veto the mining project using its authority under the Clean Water Act.

“Now, as the people of Bristol Bay will tell her loud and clear, the EPA must take the next step, finalize its assessment, and initiate action under the Clean Water Act to stop the Pebble Mine,” wrote Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Opponents of the mine argue that it would endanger the $1.5 billion per year salmon industry in Bristol Bay and the surrounding rivers and streams. Mine opponents also contend that it would endanger the survival of the tribes that depend on salmon fishing.

“McCarthy’s visit will confirm for her that protection of Bristol Bay and its fisheries must remain a top priority for EPA. On this issue, like no other, the majority of Alaskans stand behind them,” wrote Jason Metrokin, president of Bristol Bay Native Corp.

The company behind the mine said that McCarthy’s visit is welcomed and is an improvement over former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

“Lisa Jackson never visited the project [site],” John Shively, CEO of the Pebble Partnership, told IBTimes, acknowledging that Jackson did meet with mine developers once in 2010. “When Alaskan natives who were open-minded about the project wanted to meet with her, she turned them down on several occasions … even though she met with the opposition.”

“The fact that she would not meet with Alaskan natives who were open-minded about the project said a lot about what she was thinking,” said Shively.

Proponents argue that the mine could bring much needed economic vitality back into the region, which suffers from a lack of job opportunities and a dwindling population.

According to the Pebble Limited Partnership, tapping into the large gold, copper and molybdenum deposits could support about 2,900 operating jobs. This includes 915 at the mine itself. Workers at the mine could earn $109,500 per year on average. Furthermore, the mine would contribute up to $1.4 billion annually to Alaska’s economy.

However, all the claimed economic benefits will just remain numbers on a page if the EPA vetoes the mine, something which Republicans have been fighting the agency on for some time now.

“As Sen. Murkowski has consistently said, her concern is that the EPA is going beyond its authority in circumventing the established federal permitting process and setting a dangerous precedent for proposed economic development projects nationwide,” Robert Dillon, spokesperson for Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Environmentalists and the EPA argue that the agency has the authority to veto the mine under the Clean Water Act, even before any actual plans for the mine have been proposed or mining permits have been sought.

“The permitting process exists for a reason and a federal agency can no more ignore the established process than can an applicant,” Dillon added. “If the EPA has concerns about the impact of a project there is an appropriate time to raise them after a permit application has been made and the required analyses have been completed. Attempting to prejudge a hypothetical project is neither scientific or productive.”

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