Rural concerns are focus of federal EPA chief's Alaska visit

Elizabeth Bluemink

The head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency is meeting this week with Alaska village residents on matters ranging from the controversial Pebble mine project to federal spending on rural sanitation projects and coastal village erosion.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson was scheduled on Tuesday to visit four Southwest villages on Thursday: Kasigluk, Napakiak, Chefornak and Bethel.

Today, she is expected in Dillingham to meet with Bristol Bay region tribal governments, Native corporations and other local organizations to get their views on the proposed Pebble project. Jackson is also meeting with the Pebble Partnership, the consortium of mining companies hoping to develop the massive copper and gold prospect.

EPA has a critical role in the Pebble project: If the proposed mine's backers apply for development permits, EPA will be in charge of the proposed mine's environmental impact study. The companies have signaled that they might start applying for permits next year. "I think that part of the reason she's coming up to hear about Pebble is because the whole permit application process (is) getting closer and closer," said Ralph Anderson, chief executive of the Bristol Bay Native Association.

Jackson also faces some pressing concerns in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

Last week, two Bethel- area Native leaders sent a position paper to Jackson detailing some of the region's problems. The leaders, Myron Naneng of the Association of Village Council Presidents and Matthew Nicolai of Calista Corp., requested more federal funding for village sanitation and drinking water projects in their paper.

State officials said this week they are also concerned about the current level of federal funding for village water projects.

The state runs a village safe-water program but receives 75 percent of the money from the federal government. Federal spending on the program has declined 40 percent in the past seven years though the projects have become more costly, according to Larry Hartig, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Hartig said he planned to travel with Jackson to the four Western Alaska villages to look at their sanitation -- everything from honey buckets to water treatment systems -- and other problems such as coastal erosion.

"All of us are asking ourselves what to do to meet these still unmet needs," Hartig said.

On Monday, Jackson arrived in Anchorage and met with reporters, EPA staffers, the Coast Guard, DEC and business and environmental groups.

Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at or call 257-4317.