Commentary: EPA goes to Bristol Bay

Dennis McLerran, regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, said, "this is going be a huge decision for the agency."


In Alaska this week for an intensive look at and study of the Bristol Bay watershed, McLerran said the EPA is doing a "pre-study" to decide if the agency should do a more formal review under a section of the Clean Water Act. One possible result is the death of the Pebble gold and copper project.

Foes of the world-class mine had hoped the EPA would simply decide that unacceptable impacts would occur if the prospect were developed. The agency didn't go that far, and instead wants to pull together all available scientific and other information before making a decision on the Clean Water Act provision.

McLerran and colleagues Rick Parkin, lead manager of the Bristol Bay assessment, and David Allnutt, EPA's acting Alaska director, agreed that they know of no other resource situation comparable to Pebble: a huge gold and copper deposit nestled in a remote watershed that feeds the richest salmon fishery in the world.

Alaska history is full of such examples of conflicting resource values -- but none on this scale or with stakes this high.

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