At a Wednesday Bristol Bay Salmon Week event in Washington, D.C., Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers her harshest warning yet regarding their work on the proposed Pebble mine: fix the inadequacies of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and address the concerns of the EPA, or deny Pebble Mine’s permit.
"It didn't appear that [the Army Corps of Engineers] were giving the weight and credence to the issues that had been outlined by the EPA in their comments," Murkowski said. "And they need to take them seriously. We expect them to."
EPA expressed concerns in their comments on the Draft EIS that “[The DEIS] appears to lack certain critical information about the proposed project and mitigation.” Specifically, EPA’s comments included unanswered questions about everything from the structural integrity of tailings dams (and if they could withstand earthquakes), to the impacts to air quality that Pebble would have. The Department of Interior also weighed in with comments that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to adequately account for potential impacts to the subsistence fishery and the recreational fishing and tourism industry, among other things. They went so far as to say that the “DEIS was so inadequate that it precludes meaningful analysis.”
The Wednesday evening speech from Senator Murkowski reiterated her longstanding support for a fair and thorough process to analyze the impacts of Pebble’s proposal. This time however, she added a call for additional scrutiny of the project, as well as noting the steps she would take to ensure this occurs.
"I believe that, again, you have a process in place, but I want to make sure that the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA look very critically at those gaps, those deficiencies, and work to address them. If they are unable to address them, then a permit should not be issued," she said.
Well said, Senator Murkowksi.
She continued, "I will use my seat on the [Senate] Appropriations Committee to make sure that the EPA and the Corps hear clearly that they must address these.”
This is the most direct measure Senator Murkowski has promised to address the rushed and fast-tracked permitting process since the U.S. Army Corps announced a 2-year permit review in December of 2017. A review within that timeframe is significantly shorter than what was undergone by projects of smaller size and potential impact in Alaska.
Despite calls from commercial fishermen, Native tribes, lodge owners, and Alaskans across the state who oppose the Pebble project, Senator Murkowski has for the most part remained confident in the permitting process and has not taken steps to prevent the issuance of a permit. Despite clear science that the mine cannot coexist safely alongside fisheries in Bristol Bay, the Senator has stated that she believes Pebble, like any other development project, deserves a full review by agencies.
This week’s statements indicate that she is not only paying close attention to Pebble’s review but will also elevate her concerns regarding the permit's evaluation by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The science is clear, but the process has been muddied and it’s critical that no mistakes are made in the review of this key, federal permit. It’s good to know that Senator Murkowski is paying attention to how the Army Corps of Engineers reviews Pebble’s proposal. It is an issue of utmost importance to Alaska’s fisheries future. We can’t afford to get this decision wrong when the stakes are so high and the worlds most productive fishery is on the line.
The Army Corps is currently scheduled to release their final Environmental Impact Statement in the beginning of 2020. If the Army Corps comprehensively addresses the concerns of Senator Murkowski, EPA, Department of Interior, the State of Alaska, and the public, they will likely need more time than they initially suggested to finalize this document. It will be up to our Senator and other decision makers in Congress and agencies to ensure that every detail is accounted for. Thank you for continuing to follow this issue and ensure they know we are watching them closely- there is too much at stake to do anything less.