Saturday, April 27, 2013

EPA Critical of Bristol Bay Pebble Mine

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) revised draft assessment of the Pebble Mine project’s potential impact on the aquatic ecosystem in Bristol Bay, Alaska determined the mine would destroy 90 miles of streams and up to 4,800 acres of wetland salmon habitat.
“Indirect effects of stream and wetland losses would include reductions in the quality of downstream habitat for coho salmon, sockeye salmon, Chinook salmon, rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden trout. These indirect effects cannot be quantified, but likely would diminish fish production downstream of the mine site,” the EPA said in its summary of the report.

If it gets developed, the southwestern Alaska copper and gold mine would be one of the world's largest. The mine is controversial in both in Washington, D.C., and Alaska, where it pits supporters of the state’s vast mineral resources against conservationists and an established commercial fishing industry.

The draft assessment now enters a public comment period that ends May 31. The EPA will review those comments before it finalizes the study, which will be used to inform the agency on whether to issue a permit needed to construct the mine.

Industry groups have said the EPA is overstepping its authority by conducting environmental reviews before mine builders Anglo American and Northern Dynasty have submitted a formal blueprint.

The builders, who teamed up as the Pebble Partnership, said Friday that EPA "has not changed its deeply flawed approach" for the review. They, along with industry groups, worry the EPA’s evaluation means it may render a “preemptive” veto of the required permit based on hypothetical parameters for the mine. A preemptive veto, they say, could cool investment near waterways.

Pebble Mine’s opponents — which include commercial fishermen, native tribes and environmentalists — say the EPA has plenty of information to conduct a valid environmental assessment. Opponents say a mine of that size would conflict with Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon population, which accounts for a little less than half of the world’s total.

The EPA affirmed that in its draft assessment, saying the mine would inhibit salmon reproduction and negatively impact salmon habitat.

Pebble Partnership estimates its proposed mine would yield 80.6 billion tons of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum, which is used in alloys.

EPA's revised version of the Bristol Bay Assessment is now available for peer review follow-up and public comment until May 31, 2013.  The revised assessment reflects feedback from the initial peer review report and 233,000 public comments EPA received when it released the original assessment.

Key changes to the assessment include: Refinement and better explanation of the mine scenarios assessed, including the role in developing these scenarios of worldwide industry standards for porphyry copper mining and specific preliminary mine plans submitted to state and federal agencies related to the Pebble Mine Project.

- Incorporation of modern conventional mining practices into mine scenarios and clarification that some of the projected impacts assume that those practices are in place and working properly.

- Addition of an appendix describing methods to compensate for impacts to wetlands, streams and fish.

- Reorganization of the assessment to better reflect the ecological risk assessment approach and to clarify the purpose and scope.

- Additional details about projected water loss and water quality impacts on stream reaches, drainage of waste rock leachate to streams, and mine site water balance to assessment of potential mine impacts.

EPA released the draft Bristol Bay Assessment on May 18, 2012. The agency held a series of public meetings concurrent with the release and received feedback from 12 independent expert peer reviewers. In February 2011, in response to growing interest in large-scale mining in the watershed from a number of stakeholders and local communities with a range of views, EPA launched the Bristol Bay assessment to gain a better understanding of the watershed and the potential impacts of large-scale mining in the area. (EPA, The Hill, 4/26/2013)

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