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News Releases from Region 10

EPA Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran Statement on Office of Inspector Generals Report on EPAs Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment

Contact Information: 
Suzanne Skadowski (skadowski.suzanne@epa.gov)
206-553-2160, 206-900-3309


"EPA is pleased that the Inspector General's independent, in-depth review confirms that our rigorous scientific study of the Bristol Bay watershed and our robust public process were entirely consistent with our laws, regulations, policies, and procedures and were based on sound scientific analysis. We stand behind our study and our public process, and we are confident in our work to protect Bristol Bay."

The Inspector General's report concludes a 17-month comprehensive evaluation of EPA's Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, including a review of thousands internal EPA emails and external correspondence, interviews with current and former employees, and stakeholders both in favor of and opposed to the assessment. The Inspector General found:

No evidence of bias in how EPA conducted the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.
No evidence that EPA pre-determined the outcome of the assessment to initiate a Clean Water Act Section 404-C process in the Bristol Bay watershed.
All laws, regulations, guidelines and requirements for ecological risk assessment, public involvement, peer review and information quality in conducting the assessment were appropriately followed.

In contrast to claims from the Pebble Partnership, EPA did not issue a "preemptive veto" of the mine. Far from a veto of a mine, EPA's proposed restrictions are well-considered limits that balance the need to protect the world-renowned salmon fishery that thrives in the Bristol Bay watershed. Pebble is free to file a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit application at any time, and though it has repeatedly said it would file a permit application, it has chosen not to do so.

Though EPA initiates the Clean Water Act Section 404-C process rarely, the Agency continues to believe the process was appropriate here. While EPA is currently enjoined by the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska from taking any further action to protect the Bristol Bay watershed, the Agency is confident that the court will ultimately conclude that EPA's actions were fully consistent with the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

Additional Background:

Bristol Bay is a wild and largely undisturbed watershed that supports the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery, an economic powerhouse supporting 14,000 jobs, and a subsistence way of life for Alaska Natives for more than 4,000 years.

EPA conducted the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment to characterize the biological and mineral resources of the watershed, understand the potential risks from large-scale mining on the region's fish resources, and to inform decisions related to protecting and maintaining the watershed.

EPA's study used large-scale mining scenarios based on mine plans submitted by Northern Dynasty Minerals, owner of the Pebble Deposit, to potential investors and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The plans show a proposed Pebble Mine with the largest open pit ever constructed in North America covering up to seven square miles and one mile deep, three mine waste impoundments covering up to 19 square miles, and waste rock piles covering nine square miles.

EPA's assessment found that building, operating, and maintaining the mine would pose risks to the ecosystem and potential impacts to salmon and salmon habitat including: destroying 24 to 94 miles of streams and two to seven square miles of wetlands; altering stream flows in nine to 33 miles beyond the mine footprint; and polluting streams from mine drainage and wastewater failures.

Based in part on the assessment, EPA made a Clean Water Act Section 404-C Proposed Determination to restrict any discharge of dredged or fill material related to mining the Pebble deposit that would result in: the loss of five or more miles of salmon-bearing streams or 19 or more miles of tributaries; the loss of 1,100 or more acres of wetlands, lakes, and ponds that connect with salmon-bearing streams or tributaries; or alterations to stream flows greater than 20 percent of daily flow in nine or more miles of salmon-bearing streams.

EPA's intensive assessment featured an external peer review by 12 independent experts and a follow-on peer review, two public comment periods, eight public meetings, and more than one million written comments. EPA's subsequent Clean Water Act Section 404-C process also included a robust public review with seven public hearings and 670,000 public comments on the Proposed Determination.

The Inspector General's review was intended to determine if EPA conducted the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment in a biased manner or pre-determined the outcome, and if EPA followed policies and procedures for ecological risk assessment, public involvement, peer review and information quality. The Inspector General reviewed guidance documents, policies, procedures, briefing materials, and more than 8,000 internal emails and external correspondence.

The Inspector General also interviewed EPA staff and senior officials, external peer reviewers, Pebble CEO, Alaska Attorney General, legal counsel to Alaska Native tribes, United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Alaska Native Corporations, and Intergovernmental Technical Team members from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Park Service.

EPA's Office of Inspector General, under the Inspector General Act of 1978, is an independent and objective office responsible for conducting and supervising audits, evaluations and investigations relating to EPA's programs and operations in order to prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse and help EPA operate more economically, effectively and efficiently.

EPA will implement the recommendations in the Inspector General's report. To read the report, EPA's Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment: Obtainable Records Show EPA Followed Required Procedures Without Bias or Pre-Determination, but a Possible Misuse of Position Noted, visit: www.epa.gov/oig.