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6/5/15 Court ruling stops EPA work on Pebble Mine

Decision comes in one of Pebble Limited's lawsuits against the EPA

A court ruling has put a halt to the Environmental Protection Agency’s work on the Pebble mine. The Pebble Limited Partnership alleges EPA violated a federal law by establishing and working with groups of mine critics that essentially acted as advisory committees. Until that’s settled, EPA cannot work on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, or the dredge and fill restrictions it had intended to make final earlier this year.  That's according to a ruling Thursday by federal court Judge H. Russel Holland. He denied the EPA's motion to dismiss the case, which was argued last week in Anchorage court.

Parties to the suit said the case is likely to go on for at least a year. 

In a separate but related lawsuit, the third filed by Pebble against EPA in federal court, Pebble is suing for more EPA documents and emails. Pebble alleges the agency has been slow to respond to its requests under the Freedom of Information Act. 

(Based on information from David Bandinger, KDLG)


Innovative program brings dental care to underserved Alaskans, serves as model for other states

Ten years ago, the American Dental Association unsuccessfully sued to get the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to halt its Alaska Dental Health Aide Therapist program. Now the program has won a national award for its innovative approach to providing Alaska Natives with dental care. And the idea is expanding to other states.

The head of the Dental Health Aide Therapist program, Dr. Mary Williard, accepted the Indian Health Service’s Director’s award last week [May 29] on behalf of the team she said has changed dental health in Alaska.

“Forty thousand people now have access to direct patient care by a dental provider living in their community, where there probably wasn't ever one that lived in these smaller communities before,” said Williard.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium launched the Dental Health Aide Therapist program ten years ago because tribal health organizations across the state were continually recruiting but always short of dentists. And Alaska Native children had cavity rates 2.5 times higher than kids in the lower 48 state.

Dental therapists get two years training, including a hands-on practicum, in a limited scope of procedures, including fillings, extraction of baby teeth, application of sealants. Williard said the dental therapists also focus on patient education:

“One of the DHAT, Aurora Johnson, reported that in a school where she typically saw eight or so kids with with no cavities out of the sixty in the school, this year she had 34 with no cavities,” said Williard. “That's a huge increase and exactly what we're looking for. Our Alaska Native children around the state can and should be cavity free.”

Williard said regional hub providers say they’re now seeing fewer emergency flights from the villages that have dental therapists, who she said catch problems early.

“Alaska is, frankly, the best model that should be exported to other parts of the country,” said Al Yee. He’s a senior project adviser for Community Catalyst, a national consumer health advocacy organization based in Boston.

Yee says Minnesota and Maine have adopted legislation authorizing dental therapists to provide care. And New Mexico and Vermont have pushed legislation through one house in their legislatures. Yee says organizations in some 15 other states are working to launch pilot projects as a first step toward authorization of dental therapists. He says one of the selling points is better dental care.

“People just may not have access to dentists because, for instance, they may not have insurance. Or they may have Medicaid but in their particular geography, there may be not a lot of providers that take Medicaid patients,” said Yee. “So it's more than just the geographic distance of highly rural areas, like, obviously, in Alaska. There are access issues even in the cities as well.”

Yee says another selling point is that dental therapists are cost effective.

 the American Dental Association has attacked the program since it began. The ADA said therapists are not qualified to do fillings and extractions. 

However, supporters says several studies have shown dental therapists provide quality care equal to or exceeding that of dentists. The ADA has fought the authorization of dental therapists in several other states