Monday, April 29, 2013

Revised Bristol Bay Assessment For Review & Comment

Apr 26: U.S. EPA released a revised version of the Bristol Bay Assessment for peer review follow-up and public comment. The assessment includes updates following an initial peer review and public comment period of the draft Bristol Bay Assessment released in May, 2012 [See WIMS 5/21/12, & WIMS 10/3/12]. EPA is arranging for the original independent, scientific peer reviewers to evaluate the revisions made following their feedback. EPA is also inviting the public to submit comments until May 31, 2013. The peer review follow-up and comment period are meant to ensure that EPA is using the best available science for its assessment, and that information from a range of stakeholders is considered, including industry, conservation groups, and Tribes. The revised assessment reflects feedback from the initial peer review report and 233,000 public comments EPA received when it released the original assessment.

    EPA indicates that key changes to the assessment include r
efinement 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.
    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. The assessment provides a scientific foundation for future decision-making by federal and state agencies and to inform public discussion. EPA has made no decisions about using its Clean Water Act authorities in Bristol Bay. After this peer review follow-up and public comment period are complete, EPA will review feedback and move forward to finalize the assessment. EPA intends to issue a final assessment in 2013.
    U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), issued a statement on the revised assessment saying, "My review of the full document is still underway, but in the meantime I want to reiterate what I have said in the past. Attempts to prejudge any mining project before the full details of that proposal are submitted to the EPA for review is unacceptable. The permitting process exists for a reason and a federal agency can no more ignore the established process than can an applicant. If the EPA has concerns about the impact of a project there is an appropriate time to raise them -- after a permit application has been made, not before. It is clear to me that a preemptive veto of resource development is quite simply outside the legal authority that Congress intended to provide to of the EPA. I made that clear to the previous EPA administrator and I will make it clear to the current nominee, Gina McCarthy."

    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] 

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