Bristol Bay Tribes outraged at inadequate review of Pebble project

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) today (Feb. 20th, 2019) released its woefully inadequate draft Environmental Impact Statement for Pebble’s plan to build a mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay. The draft EIS ignores the major impacts to the region’s people, fishery and economy.

The USACE’s draft EIS should have thoroughly reviewed Pebble’s proposed plan, along with several options for developing the mine and potential impacts for each scenario, but with the USACE’s stated intention to make a final decision by 2020 – it is clear that this fast-tracked process is driven by politics rather than fair process and sound science.

The document released today has several major flaws, including an inaccurate premise that implies that there is need for mining in Bristol Bay, a lack of analysis of many of the mine’s potential impacts to local communities and an inadequate review of the project’s risks, including the following:

•Does not consider the collective impacts of spills that are likely to happen over the life of the proposed project, such as leaks and spills from mining operations, support facilities, and the transportation of mining products, supplies and materials. These spills are completely predictable, but the DEIS does not account for their impacts.

•Underestimates the risks associated with a catastrophic tailings dam failure, and does not evaluate that risk in perpetuity, even though it will remain a constant threat in Bristol Bay. The work to review such a failure is kicked down the road for the State of Alaska to review later, but is a major threat of the project that should be reviewed now, and has been included for the EIS of other mine projects.

•Ignores many cultural and socioeconomic impacts, such as how heightened environmental concerns will affect the everyday well-being of Bristol Bay residents.

“The Draft EIS is further evidence that the process is rigged in Pebble’s favor. It is time for Senator Lisa Murkowski and other elected leaders to call for a stop in this process until the USACE is willing to conduct a thorough and fair review of the process,” said UTBB Executive Director Alannah Hurley. “The Army Corps’ review ignores the very real concerns about the changes and devastation Pebble would bring to our region, and is clearly the result a rushed process that has ignored local voices and ignores the existing science in the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment that shows how devastating this project would be in Bristol Bay. The people of Bristol Bay and all who depend on its pristine environment deserve to have the project fully vetted and their concerns considered within this process and it has been clear from the beginning of this process that isn’t happening and USACE will do whatever it takes to fast-track this permit for Pebble.”

A 90-day public comment period is expected to begin March 1, with hearings in several Bristol Bay communities. UTBB and other Bristol Bay organizations have called for a longer comment period to allow Bristol Bay residents and others more time to review the draft.

The United Tribes of Bristol Bay is a tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments (that represent over 80 percent of the region’s total population) working to protect the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq way of life in Bristol Bay.