In Iliamna, EPA hears mixed reactions to its new course on Pebble Mine

EPA officials traveled from Washington, D.C. to Iliamna to hear local input on EPA’s recent settlement with Pebble (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The Environmental Protection Agency was in the remote community of Iliamna on Thursday for the second of two public hearings on whether the agency should roll back its Obama-era proposal to impose restrictions on the Pebble Mine.

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Despite pouring rain, over 50 Alaskans from across the region filled seats in the Old Crowley Hangar at the Iliamna Airport and spoke directly to EPA officials.

Unlike the hearing the day before in Dillingham — where public input was unanimously against the proposed Pebble Mine and EPA’s new course — the reaction in Iliamna was more mixed.

Representatives from Pebble Limited Partnership and the Alaska Miners Association spoke in favor of pulling back from imposing Clean Water Act restrictions on the mine. Several local residents also spoke in support of EPA’s new course, saying they hope for more job opportunities in the region.

That included Iliamna resident Margie Olympic, who has been employed by Pebble for 11 years.

“I take pride from where I come from and what I was taught growing up,” Olympic said. “But I also know the value of having a job and supporting my family at this age. Fishing does not and could not support me and my family 12 months out of the year.”

Olympic and others urged EPA to allow the project to begin the normal permitting process.

But many speakers criticized EPA for considering rolling back the restrictions, voicing fears about the mine’s potential impact on the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.

“The only true economy with longevity is a renewable economy, and we have that,” Everett Thompson, a commercial fisherman from Naknek, told EPA officials. “It is scary to keep investing into the fishery with an ever-looming threat of Pebble Mine. Please do what is right, do not withdraw your Clean Water Act proposed determination.”

Several speakers also criticized EPA administrator Scott Pruitt for making the decision to settle with the Pebble Limited Partnership this spring without public input from local communities.

“I’ve been involved in the Pebble debate since longer than I care to remember,” Nanci Morris-Lyon said. She owns a sport fishing business near King Salmon. “Since the debate began, I have raised a daughter. She became a full-time fly-fishing guide this summer….These things take a very long time. Much longer than it took Director Pruitt to decide that all the time we committed to scientific study proving why Pebble Mine should not happen in Bristol Bay was not worth reviewing.”

EPA will take comment on its proposal until October 17.

Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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