Mining News

EPA casts doubt on Pebble Mine

Posted by Alana Wilson on 4/29/2013 4:17:51 PM

By Dr. Kenneth P. Green, Senior Director, Energy and Natural Resources

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a new report[1] casting a large shadow over the prospects for the proposed Pebble mine in Alaska. The EPA study is not an evaluation of a specific mining proposal, but rather, assesses the potential impacts of mining in the Bristol Bay region by creating 3 mining scenarios.

The assessment is important because it sets the stage for potential EPA rejection of mining proposals in the area under the auspices of the Clean Water Act:

The assessment also could inform the consideration of options for future action by government bodies. This includes USEPA, which has been petitioned by multiple groups to address mining activity in the Bristol Bay watershed using its authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Should specific mine projects reach the permitting stage, the assessment will enable state or federal permitting authorities to make informed decisions to grant, deny, or condition permits and/or conduct additional research or assessment as a basis for such decisions. USEPA is conducting this assessment consistent with its authority under the CWA Section 104(a) and (b).

The assessment found significant threats to wildlife and ecosystems under each of the three modeled scenarios, including extensive destruction of streams, and consequent loss of salmon (and other fish) habitat.

As Sean Cockerham points out in the Anchorage Daily News[2], the assessment has caught the interest of all the relevant players, some of which oppose the assessment, and some of which support it.

The Alaskan Department of Law finds the EPA assessment troubling because it does not evaluate an actual application to engage in mining in the area: “We believe the assessment is premature, as well as any action EPA might take based upon it,” the state agency said. “Any consideration of impacts should be made within the context of an actual proposal and a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit application.”

Mining industry representatives oppose the EPA assessment for much the same reason: “While we need to review the document in detail, it seems the EPA has not changed its deeply flawed approach of creating and evaluating a completely hypothetical mine plan, instead of waiting until a real, detailed mine plan is submitted to regulators as part of a complete permit application," said Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively.”

Environmental groups are, not surprisingly, latching onto the assessment: “"The science is clear: Developing Pebble mine will harm salmon and destroy streams even if nothing ever goes wrong at the mine," said Tim Bristol, the director of Trout Unlimited's Alaska Program.”

The stakes are high in the Pebble fight, and U.S. politicians are already involved at a very high level. According to the Anchorage News article, “U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said he opposes a pre-emptive veto of the Pebble mine or other projects and added "an open, public process that answers Alaskans' questions and puts better science on the table is a good thing.”

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