EPA indicates that 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 [See WIMS 10/3/12]. 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. EPA highlights the following changes:
- 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.
- Expanded information on the potential transportation corridor, including analysis of potential diesel pipeline spills, product concentrate spills, truck accidents involving process chemicals and culvert failures.
Sen. Murkowski indicates that EPA undertook the watershed assessment in response to petitions to preemptively veto development in Alaska. She has continually criticized the EPA for failing to rule out using the watershed assessment to justify preemptively blocking development, including mineral production by the Pebble Limited Partnership, in Southwest Alaska. Sen.Murkowski has also stated that EPA's use of a hypothetical mine -- much of which is designed to violate modern environmental standards -- is a fundamental flaw that must be fixed if Alaskans are to make informed decisions about development in the state. The revised watershed assessment does not fix this flaw.
More than 300 leading scientists sent a letter to the White House on April 26, 2013 expressing "deep concerns" about the prospect of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed of Southwest Alaska, home to the world's largest wild salmon runs. In their letter, the scientists indicate in part, "In our view, EPA's draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment aptly identifies the outstanding ecological and cultural values at risk from a mine on the scale of the Pebble discovery or from other mine operations that would likely follow an initial mine opening in the region. The Bristol Bay area, comprised of the Nushagak and Kvichak river watersheds, the headwaters of three other pristine rivers, and the largest undeveloped lake on Earth, is one of the most productive, beautiful, and bountiful landscapes on the continent. Undeveloped watersheds are a rarity throughout the world and Bristol Bay's pristine watersheds support a world-class salmon fishery, which includes all five salmon species native to Alaska and the largest sockeye salmon runs in the world. Annual salmon returns, fully unsupported by hatcheries, typically average in the millions. The Bristol Bay Sport Management Area also supports abundant sport and subsistence fisheries. Together, this keystone fishery and the diverse habitats of the region are home to abundant populations of brown bears, gray wolves, and bald eagles. Caribou and moose frequent the areas' wetlands. . .
"We understand that no specific mining proposal has yet been put forward for approval and that the agency has been criticized for utilizing hypothetical mine scenarios for assessment of impacts. We disagree strongly with these criticisms and believe that the use of credible mining scenarios is appropriate for this sort of forward-looking analysis. We would also note that the nature of metal mining, with its high potential for encountering unanticipated conditions, means that nearly any major mine plan is subject to change. Indeed, the footprints of many mines that have operated over decades are far larger than initially planned. . ."
Access a release from EPA (click here). Access the Bristol Bay assessment website for complete information and commenting instructions (click here). Access the release from Sen. Murkowski with links to her previous inquiries and EPA's responses (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]