EPA says impact of Bristol Bay mine could be devastating
Assessment does not specifically recommend policy or regulatory decisions
Cordova Times | Margaret Bauman
January 15, 2014
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A long-waiting final federal report on the Bristol Bay watershed says large-scale mining there could have potentially catastrophic effects on fishery resources.
The report, online at http://www.epa.gov/bristolbay, outlines a number of potential adverse results that could occur if the mine was developed and operated, including catastrophic damage to fishery habitat due to development, operation and accidents at such a large scale mine.
The report does not specifically mention the Pebble mine, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that the assessment does not recommend policy or regulatory decisions.
"Thousands of hardworking commercial fishermen rely on the Bristol Bay fishery, and we're proud to provide a sustainable and healthy source of food for the nation," said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. "Our industry is the economic engine for the region, and we're calling on the Obama Administration to take immediate steps to protect it from all large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay drainages."
The report was praised as objective, clear and grounded in sound science by environmental organizations including Trout Unlimited and the Natural Resources Defense Council, who called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect fisheries habitat from adverse impacts.
Northern Dynasty Minerals, the Vancouver, British Columbia junior mining company that has spent millions of dollars already gathering data on the project, issued a statement saying the EPA' final Bristol Bay watershed report "does not include any recommendations or regulatory actions that will affect future development of the Pebble project.
"Publication of the final watershed assessment is really the final chapter in a very sad story," said Ron Thiessen, president of Northern Dynasty, a subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson Inc. "We believe EPA set out to do a flawed analysis of the Pebble project, and they certainly succeeded with both their first and second drafts of the BBWA. We have every expectation that the final report released today is more of the same."
Thiessen's commentary was echoed by John Shively, chief executive officer of the Pebble Partnership in Anchorage, who called the draft and final documents flawed.
Shively said the report does not assess effects of the Pebble project, for which the Pebble Partnership has not yet submitted a project for regulatory evaluation.
"Clearly", said Shively, "this report should not be used as the basis for any type of agency decision regarding Pebble."
Joel Reynolds, western director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the document objective, clear and grounded in sound science, and said it's time for the EPA to take regulatory action to stop the Pebble mine.
The document makes it clear that the mine would deal a huge blow to the sportsmen's paradise we have in Bristol Bay," said Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited's Alaska program. "Bristol Bay is the last place you should put a mike like this," he said.
A group of commercial fishermen, investors, jewelers, conservation organizations and Alaska Native leaders meanwhile applauded the EPA's final assessment.
"The study documents the global significance of the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery – the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world – and highlights the severe impact and risks of large-scale mining, including the proposed Pebble mine, in the Bristol Bay watershed," the group said, in a statement issued by Earthworks, a national conservation group.
Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks, said the fate of the nation's greatest salmon fishery and jobs that depend on it now rests with the EPA.
"There are some places where mining cannot be done without forever damaging landscapes, wildlife, businesses, and communities," said Michael J. Kowalski, chairman and chief executive officer of Tifffany & Co., the New York based jewelry firm. "Bristol Bay is one such place. We, along with many of our fellow jewelers, urge the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to safeguard Bristol Bay and the communities and fishery it supports."
Trillium Assets Management, also supported the EPA report. "Anglo American's withdrawal from the project highlights significant business and investment risks," said Jonas Kron, senior vice president of Trillium."We urge the EPA to take immediate steps to initiate the 404 © process to protect he fishery and provide regulatory clarity."
Section 404 © of the Clean Water Act established a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into the waters of the United States.
It authorizes the EPA administrator to deny or restrict the use of defined areas as disposal sites, after determining that the discharge of such materials into that area would have an unacceptable adverse effect on fisheries, wildlife, municipal water supplies or recreational use.
Jason Metrokin, president and chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Native Corp., also applauded the EPA's assessment.
"From the very beginning, EPA was in Bristol Bay because our federally recognized tribes and Native organizations, including BBNC, asked them to be," Metrokin said.
"With today's release, science has weighted in. Bristol Bay, its existing jobs and way of life could be irreparably damaged by a large-scale mine that is the size and scope of the Pebble project- and therefore, our fish, our people and our cultures must be protected."
Metrokin said BBNC reports responsible development where it can be done without causing unacceptable risks to the people, cultures and fishing economy of the region.
The proposed Pebble mine is not such a project," he said. "It's time for the agency to initiate a 404 © action to protect Bristol Bay."