By MARK HAMILTON
Part 10 of a series on the Pebble Project.
Here we go again with another power grab by a corrupted federal agency.
We learned a lot during Act I of this farce. That extraordinary fantasy was an introduction of a 404(c) section of the Clean Water Act to block the Pebble Project before it was allowed to enter the National Environmental Policy Act process.
This wasn’t simply rare; it was unprecedented.
EPA was very aware of this circumstance, and cheered in internal emails both the honor of being the first and the value of such a play to allow EPA to render such judgments without the lengthy, science-based assessment of the NEPA process.
Think about this for just a moment. Skipping the NEPA process means EPA will not need the input from any of the nearly two dozen who could potentially be cooperating agencies (there were 8 Federal agencies involved in the environmental impact study for the Pebble project).
Skipping the NEPA Process meant no public comment, no state agencies, it meant no science worthy of the name. Remember, EPA did no field work in Bristol Bay before making this decision.
A resource development state should be terrified from both sides of the political spectrum — if EPA under an anti-development government can dismiss projects without the NEPA process; why couldn’t EPA under a pro-development government approve a project without going through the NEPA process?
EPA tried, of course, and was sued and lost on their initial effort to be the single arbiter of developer projects. Allow me to correct a common and erroneous assessment of the 404(c) saga. The adjudication of the actions by EPA all happened under the Obama administration (people usually get that right).
The second assessment is typically incorrect. That report says something like “Trump’s EPA reversed it” or a version that is similar. Not exactly. The adjudication had only two meaningful directives— one was that the Pebble project could be allowed to enter the NEPA Process (as had been allowed to many many thousands of projects since 1972). The second is what gets glossed over too often— that within 90 days of the signing of the settlement “EPA must begin the process of lifting the preliminary determination” (what is often called the veto).
Obama’s EPA was directed to remove the preliminary determination — they essentially refused — more than two year’s past the settlement’s directed time-line , Trump’s EPA met the requirements of the settlement. They didn’t “reverse” anything (and they didn’t exactly hurry it along).
Now we hear about efforts to give the 404(c) another go. The vague goal is to give Bristol Bay “more protection.”
In fact EPA is back to the “zoning” precedent they sought with the first effort at 404(c). The honest definition of “more protection “ is “advanced prohibition.” This has been discussed at EPA since 2005 and was the goal of the first 404(c) efforts.
EPA wants you to believe this is good for you, that it will facilitate planning by developers and industry. They claim it “will eliminate the frustrating situations in which someone spends time and money developing a project for an inappropriate site and learns at an advanced stage that he must start over.”
Who do you think would be the authority to determine “inappropriate” sites? Exactly how would that be determined?
Get ready for the next promise. “…in addition, advance prohibition will facilitate comprehensive rather than piecemeal protection of wetlands.”
Let’s digest this one for a moment. The phrase “advance prohibition” should make you take a breath.
Advance of what? In the 2005 case, any science, even the pathetic Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA), pseudo-science at best, had not yet begun. Advance of public input? Advance of a development plan?
Concerned yet? How about “comprehensive rather than piecemeal protection”. That way no one needs to deal with a single development project, we can skip site specific assessment, size of development, environmental baseline assessments, the whole array of environmental safeguards that might apply to a “piecemeal” evaluation.
With this claimed authority EPA can zone massive regions with advance prohibition. Indeed, the conclusion of BBWA was “no mine of any size” should be allowed in Bristol Bay. They had hoped to have the effort serve as a model for a new wave that they termed “proactive watershed planning”. There you have it Alaska, prohibitive zoning of a piece of land as large as the state of Ohio.
With the end game revealed, you can start to see the reason and the purpose of the massive narrative of fear campaign carried out by EPA and its host of environmental activists. EPA desperately wants that precedent, and Bristol Bay seems eager to give it to them.
The “Pebbled” series at Must Read Alaska is authored by Mark Hamilton. After 31 years of service to this nation, Hamilton retired as a Major General with the U. S. Army in July of 1998. He served for 12 years as President of University of Alaska, and is now President Emeritus. He worked for the Pebble Partnership for three years before retiring. The series continues next week.