Alaska mine developer battles EPA with lobby visit

ADVERTISEMENT
The EPA is weighing whether to award Pebble Partnership, the venture formed by developers Anglo American and Northern Dynasty, a Clean Water Act permit to build on the watershed.

Pebble’s supporters argue that the EPA is hinting it could “preemptively veto” the permit. The developers have not yet submitted a formal blueprint for the mine, which has forced the EPA to use hypothetical mine designs in its draft environmental analysis.

Robertson said Shively will use the meetings with lawmakers and with the White House Council on Environmental Quality to discuss the potential for EPA overreach with Pebble.

“When we have an opportunity to explain to people that the EPA has said that they have the ability to veto this mine before we ever submit a permit application, and they can do it to you to any project in your state … you see the light bulb go off,” Robertson said.

Separately, a handful of Northern Dynasty executives are making the rounds this week in Washington, D.C., as well. The firm's chief sent a letter to acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe on May 30 airing "significant concerns" about the regulator's review process.

That draft review, released in April, said that an open pit mine at the Bristol Bay’s headwaters would destroy salmon runs, devastating the habitat for nearly half the world’s sockeye salmon.

The permitting fight has garnered attention from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), the chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on Oversight, and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Alaska’s senators, Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D), also have expressed concern about the EPA’s process.

The mine’s opponents contend the EPA has plenty of information from Securities and Exchange Commissions filings by the Pebble Partnership to conduct a review of the mine.

They have launched a lobbying and advertising campaign of their own to raise awareness inside the Beltway.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a green group, spearheaded a six-figure ad buy in several news publications arguing the EPA already had the authority to reject the mine under the Clean Water Act.

Pebble’s detractors — largely commercial fishermen and native tribes — say Pebble would eliminate 14,000 fishing industry jobs.

"It's ironic that the Pebble Partnership is in Washington, D.C. this week trying to sell a fantasy jobs plan while thousands of commercial fishermen, sportsmen, lodge owners, and Alaska Natives are gathering in Bristol Bay to begin fishing season and earn a living from that sustainable fishery," Rick Halford, Alaska's former Republican Senate president, told The Hill in a statement.

That’s generated some concern from some western Senate Democrats.

Five of them highlighted a report that touted Bristol Bay's commercial fishing industry in a letter to President Obama on Monday. The University of Alaska Institute for Social and Economic Research report said that sector accounted for $1.5 billion in economic output for the Pacific Northwest, including $500 million in direct income.

"Bristol Bay’s economic impact is critical to the regional economy of the Pacific Northwest and on our home states of Washington, Oregon and California," wrote Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.).

But Shively will come to Capitol Hill armed with a new study that says Pebble would create thousands of jobs in Alaska and the Lower 48 states.

The study, conducted by economic consultancy IHS, predicted Pebble would support roughly 16,000 jobs during the construction phase, and about 15,000 jobs once operational. 

Robertson said the IHS study gives Pebble’s backers the “independent, credible analysis” it needed to push the jobs angle in Washington.

“There is no partisan divide on the desire to create jobs. So Democrats and Republicans both are interested in that,” he said.

— This story was last updated at 2:52 p.m.