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Bristol Bay advocates argue against Pebble in D.C.

WASHINGTON — Anti-mine advocates with the Bristol Bay Native Corp. made the rounds in Washington, D.C., this week to get a word in with regulators and lawmakers about the ongoing permit process for the proposed Pebble Mine.

The visit came as the a round of public events wrapped up in Anchorage Thursday.

The group's members said that they aren't happy with the way the Army Corps of Engineers is running the show, but that they have confidence that the Environmental Protection Agency and Alaska's congressional delegation will help them stand in the way of the potential gold, copper and molybdenum mine that they worry will poison headwaters of the Bristol Bay salmon fisheries.

The will-they-or-won't-they saga of the Pebble prospect has run on for more than a decade, with no sign of a permit application until December. Now the anti-Pebble advocates, including Bristol Bay salmon fishermen and a slew of environmental groups, are arguing that the process is going to fast.

The Trump administration's EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, initially balked at a watershed assessment crafted under the Obama administration, but put the decision-making document back on the table earlier this year.

This week, BBNC board members met with staffers on Capitol Hill, members of the delegation or their staff, and with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. The hope, they said, was to link product to place — connecting the salmon federal officials eat with Bristol Bay, Alaska.

The group had several messages for federal officials: The permitting process should not be rushed. The ore is likely to be sold in Asia, not in the United States. And the mine plan has changed, dramatically, leaving many parts of the plan unknown.

The new mine plan came without a clear water management plan, economic feasibility study or schedule for environmental mitigation, the BBNC members said. The new mine plan involves a whole knew method of transportation — an icebreaking ferry, and a new route to the mine, they said.

Considering the changes, they argued that Pebble and the Corps are working on an aggressive timeline and only "checking the box" with public comment efforts.

Nevertheless, the Bristol Bay board members, including Dorothy Larsen, Russell Nelson, Joe Chythlook, Peter Andrew, Jr. and Daniel Cheyette, the groups' vice president for lands and natural resources, expressed confidence in the EPA and the congressional delegation.

The BBNC members said that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, despite initial reservations about work performed under the Obama administration, had acted in good faith throughout.

Pruitt "did what he said he was going to do" and reconsidered the project until there was a permit application, aid BBNC board member Russell Nelson.

And they said they hoped an Alaskan EPA regional director — Chris Hladdick, who once lived in Dillingham in the Bristol Bay region, would come out on their side. They also spoke highly of EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Dennis Lee Forsgren, Jr., a point of contact within the agency who used to work for Alaska Rep. Don Young. (The Young connection falls fairly far back in Forsgren's resume, however.)

They credited Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski with getting the comment period extended, and lauded her efforts to help them fight for a process that they think is fair.

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