Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Groups Call For End To Keystone Center Pebble Mine Involvement

Oct 3: National and Alaska conservation organizations called on the Keystone Center to end its work on the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska [See WIMS 5/21/12], which they said faces intense opposition from local residents, Alaska natives and commercial fishermen because the mine could ruin pristine land, fisheries and the livelihood of thousands of Alaskans. The Alaska Wilderness League, Audubon, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, Earthjustice, and World Wildlife Fund sent a letter to Keystone CEO Gary Grappo saying that Keystone's work with the Pebble Partnership isn't necessary or productive and "has the potential for misuse by the mine proponents that are funding it."
    The Colorado-based Keystone Center has been hired by the Pebble Partnership, a consortium seeking to develop the Pebble Mine, to set up a "dialogue" process to evaluate the mine project separate from one undertaken by the U.S. EPA. Nine Federally recognized tribes, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the Bristol Bay Native Association, commercial fishing and sportsmen groups, and conservation groups have asked the EPA to protect Bristol Bay and veto Pebble Mine. Those groups also oppose the Keystone dialogue.
    In support of the local opposition, the conservation groups wrote to Grappo: "We believe the dialogue is the wrong approach given the project's unacceptable location and unavoidable risks. We value good science, as you do, to inform a dispute, resolve uncertainties, and, where possible, eliminate risks through project design changes, operational conditions, or other mitigation. In this instance, however, no amount of scientific analysis or mitigation can alter the fundamental problem that this is an inherently dangerous project in the wrong place.
    "And we note the significant local opposition both to large-scale mining in the region and to Keystone's engagement in a dispute over a project that threatens to devastate this unique and irreplaceable watershed, contaminate their communities, and destroy their livelihood. We appreciate the gravity and the potential difficulty of the request we are making, but we nonetheless urge Keystone to withdraw its engagement from the Pebble Project."
    Pebble Mine is a giant gold and copper mine proposed at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed. The Bristol Bay watershed feeds the greatest wild salmon fishery in the world, supporting valuable (around $500 million annually) fish- and tourism-related activity, indigenous people, and a vast array of wildlife. Environmental groups have said that the proposed Pebble Mine, one of the largest mines in the world with a footprint that would cover 28 square miles of land, would siphon as much as 35 billion gallons of fresh water out of the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska every year, eliminating critical salmon habitat, and would likely facilitate the development of a much larger mining district, further endangering the world's largest wild sockeye salmon fishery.
    In their letter, the environmental groups commended the EPA for developing an ecological risk assessment of possible large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed. In May 2012, the EPA issued draft findings and concluded that "mining of this scale would case the loss of spawning and rearing habitat for multiple species of anadromous and resident fish." In its evaluation, the EPA provided substantial opportunity for experts and citizens to offer their views. Multiple public hearings in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest solicited testimony and comments from state and local governments, Native corporations, the mining industry, commercial fishermen, recreation and tourism businesses and residents. By overwhelming numbers public comments supported the EPA's process.
    In November 2007, The Keystone Center was approached by the UK- and U.S.-based consulting firm Sustainable Finance to determine whether Keystone was interested in and capable of undertaking an independent stakeholder assessment and dialogue feasibility study focused on the potential development of the Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. Between February and May 2008, a Keystone Center team conducted interviews and conversations with approximately 90 individuals in Anchorage, the Bristol Bay watershed, and the Kenai Peninsula.
    The Keystone Center complete a study, Stakeholder Assessment and Dialogue Feasibility Study for the Proposed Pebble Project, in 2008 and 2009. A dialogue process has been established. Keystone indicates, "The primary goal of this Keystone Dialogue is to better inform decisions about the Bristol Bay mining project by integrating independent science with a public dialogue. The purpose of the Keystone Dialogue process is not to influence the decision about a mine in the Bristol Bay watershed or to replace any decision-making authority or administrative or regulatory procedure. Rather, our purpose is to assess the credibility and sufficiency of Pebble's science through an independent scientific review,  and then to make the relevant information resulting from this process available to state and federal agencies, environmental organizations, community and tribal organizations, the media and the mining company for use in considering a mine in the Bristol Bay watershed."
    Keystone indicates that the purpose of the dialogue process is to help stakeholders make better informed decisions about the critical choices before them. To that end, the Keystone Center is facilitating a dialogue process that includes the following framework:
  • An independent Science Advisory Committee (SAC) to help guide the facilitated dialogue.
  • Independent Science Panels (ISPs) to help stakeholders assess the credibility and sufficiency of baseline environmental and socioeconomic studies and understand the meaning of the studies in the context of a proposed mine. Panelists will engage with each other and with stakeholders in publicly held panels focused on the following topics: Responsible large-scale mining – principles, practices, criteria and standards (December, 2010); Geology and geochemistry / hydrology and water quality; Fish, wildlife, and habitat / Socioeconomic and cultural dimensions; and Evaluating choices – a facilitated panel discussion designed to help stakeholders examine a mine plan and its potential influence on the region's ecological, social, and economic base.
  • Possible follow-up actions to address baseline scientific questions that may require further study.
    Access a release from the organizations and link to the complete letter (click here). Access the Bristol Bay assessment website for complete information and commenting instructions (click here). Access more information from the Wild Salmon Center on the Pebble Mine proposal (click here). Access more information on the Pebble Mine from Northern Dynasty (click here). Access a 4-page fact sheet from Northern Dynasty (click here). Access the Pebble Partnership website for more information including a Pebble Environmental Baseline Document (click here). Access the Keystone Center website for the Pebble Mine project for background and links to more information (click here). [#Land, #Wildlife, #Water]
32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals