Mark Hamilton: Here we go again, with EPA doubling down on power grabbing



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. 

Pebbled 1: Virtue signaling won out over science in project of the century

Pebbled 2: Environmental industry has fear-mongering down to an art

Pebbled 3: The secret history of ANWR and the hand that shaped it

Pebbled 4: When government dictates an advance prohibition

Pebbled 5: EPA ‘just didn’t have time’ to actually go to Bristol Bay

Pebbled 6: The narrative of fear

Pebbled 7: The environmentalists who cried wolf

Pebbled 8: Build your media filter based on science, not narrative

Pebbled 9: The history of hysteria

Part 10: Here we go again, EPA doubling down on power grabbing


  1. I don’t know that Pebble has even a ghost of a chance of ever being developed. Cold fusion appears more likely to me today. Other developments like the Ambler road and mining district, Donlin, Graphite, rare earths, Palmer and Mat-Su coal have been discussed for decades, and their executives were not stupidly duped by environmentalist women posing as financiers yet those projects appear less likely today to succeed than they appeared a few years ago. The best Alaskans can do now is work on US House and Senate campaigns around the nation to flip Congress to Republican, and then work to toss Democrats from the White House in 2024. In the meantime we need to reduce the size of state government by $1 billion General Fund, no matter the PFD amount, so that if and when Alaskans can come up with more and better comparative economic advantages than we have today there can be actual progress (instead of merely talk). Even though that may not be until after 2030 we will still be talking about Pebble, Ambler, Donlin, Graphite, etc.

  2. Hamilton knows something about power grabbing. He did it without reservation at the UA for years, while president. Almost single-handidly, he
    wiped-out the School of Mines at UAF and replaced it with a Native Cultural Center used exclusively by Natives, at the exclusion of all others of non-Native blood. And Hamilton spent extravagently, building-up UA satellite programs in the Bush and smaller communities. It takes some nerve to lecture us all, years later, about propping-up the mining industry. Come into my little palace, said the spider to the fly.

    • Hard to believe a former Army general is too chicken to come to Must Read and defend his prior actions. If he thinks he’s above reproach from his past, he’s more than just a plain old chicken. Readers here, know.

  3. If the EPA was honest then Los Angeles would be shut down for exceeding the air quality limits by being 500% over the max. The EPA is just a political arm of the Dems.

    Furthermore, the Salton Sea (the toilet bowl of the Coachella Valley) is now almost dry. The build up of the pesticides and the fertilizer has created the biggest “Super Fund” site in the United States.

    Where is the Sierra Club ??? Getting paid off to look the other way—-this is your neighbor with garbage all over their yard calling you “dirty”. California is the dirtiest state in the Union and they sue Alaska.

  4. Hamilton and Geivette have been going at it for months now. And no one even cares. I mean really, who even gives a rip about Pebble anymore?

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