But that’s the future. Where are we now? After long years of work, we’ve published the Environmental Baseline Document, the culmination of the first five years of independent scientific effort which continues on today. Now we’re evaluating design options, with this and new data, to prepare permit applications for a mine plan approximately 50% smaller than past drafts with significant reductions in environmental impact. It probably won’t have escaped your attention that this mine application process is running a bit differently than it’s supposed to.
Normally, once we had prepared our documentation and submitted our permit applications, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and various state agencies would review what we propose to build and then decide if it satisfied requirements. If so, great! If not, we’d work with them to understand their concerns and find a way to comply. That’s not what happened this time, however.
The (draft) Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment
The EPA was asked to preemptively shut down the Pebble Project in advance of our submitting permitting applications. They chose instead to conduct a study—the draft “Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment,” (BBWA for short)—using a hypothetical mine to predict impacts. EPA used an outdated model of a mine that could never even be permitted today. Upon publishing their draft document, the EPA solicited public response for a brief window of time during which many rural Alaskans were participating in the subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering activities that sustain them through the winter months. A time when very few can review a thousand-page government finding, attend community discussions and formulate a response.
There’s a huge body of rules and procedures in place that are meant to make this type of large resource development project more predictable. Like a NASA launch checklist, it can seem tedious and drawn-out going down the list line-by-line, step-by-step, but that’s how you make sure that every “t” is crossed and every “i” is dotted. It’s what both protects the environment and assures investors that while all ventures involve risk, if you follow the rules, you’ll be allowed due process. There’s no place for whimsy in government regulation.
Response to EPA
Tim Anelon of Iliamna speaks at a public hearing
You can read some of the public responses in our Newsroom’s Response to EPA page, including comments from Alaska state and federal representatives, 10 of the 12 Alaska Native Regional Corporations, trade associations, experts and concerned individuals—all of whom objected to the way the EPA confused the process. We all want what’s best for Alaska and Alaskans, and many of the comments we link to aren’t from proponents. They’re from people and groups who want the opportunity to get accurate facts, and are reserving judgment until that time. They’re asking for fairness and clarity. For all the ruckus that a very vocal opposition raises, quite a lot of Alaska is interested in facts, not fear mongering.
Independent Panel to Review Pebble Science
We’re still working on having an open and honest dialog about the project, and that’s extended our timelines a bit. In October 2012, the Colorado-based Keystone Center moderated an independent panel to discuss the science of the Pebble Environmental Baseline Document (EBD).
The sessions were open to the public, and we think many people benefitted, but rather than participate constructively many others chose to boycott, protest, and vilify Keystone. Keystone is a well-respected, professional organization and to imply, as some did, that Pebble’s underwriting of the sessions somehow bought Keystone’s objectivity is simply unfounded. A scientist’s intellectual integrity is worth far more than the price of an airline ticket and a hotel room. Were we naïve to expect better? Perhaps, but we will continue to try and help Alaskans to better understand the facts on the ground, the nature of the mine approval process, and our commitment to open dialog.
The takeaways for Pebble within the Keystone process included positive support for the depth and breadth of the EBD studies, along with sound recommendations for future scientific studies to consider if a mine plan is finalized for permitting. This feedback is very valuable.