Sen. Murkowski Comment on EPA Watershed Study

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today commented on the Environmental Protection Agency’s watershed assessment of Alaska’s Bristol Bay area, and her communication with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on the issue.

“I have consistently been clear about two things concerning the Pebble project: I will not trade fish for gold, but I oppose a preemptive veto prior to proper evaluation of an application and actual project description. I want to see the NEPA process work as it is supposed to,” Murkowski said. “While I'm pleased this draft assessment does not contain a preemptive veto, I'm concerned that it did not make clear the appropriate time for Section 404 evaluation and action is only in response to an application for permit. I do not believe a preemptive veto is within the agency's statutory authorities and I have made that clear to Administrator Jackson.”

Murkowski has now sent two letters (Feb. 16, 2011 and April 18, 2012) to Administrator Jackson outlining her concerns with the EPA’s Bristol Bay watershed assessment, including whether a decision by the agency to block a large-scale mining operation could set a legal precedent that could prevent other future development proposals, such as an airport or fish processing facility.

The EPA responded (Mar. 21, 2011, and May 17, 2012) that the assessment relates only to a large-scale mine and that, in their opinion, it would be inappropriate to argue otherwise. 

“While the agency has offered assurances that its assessment of the potential impact of a large-scale mining operation on the watershed should not be used to oppose future development activities in the region, they failed to provide a written legal opinion to support their argument,” Murkowski said.

After reviewing Administrator Jackson’s responses, Murkowski said she also remains concerned that the EPA is holding only a limited comment period at a time when many local residents are busy with the fishing season, and that they appear to be inadequately engaging with the state. The draft assessment released today is several hundred pages long and Murkowski’s office is still reviewing it.