EPA plans to release final assessment on large mining in Bristol Bay region this year

February 6, 2013

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to issue a final report this year on the impacts of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region, regional director Dennis McLerran said. The report intends to address concerns that arose from the agency’s initial study of a hypothetical mining project in the region.

The Associated Press reported that McLerran spoke to the Alaska Forum on the Environment in Anchorage on February 5. In his prepared remarks, he said the EPA plans to release a revised draft report this spring for public comment and additional peer review. The EPA said it will consider the additional input as it prepares its final report.

While the Pebble Project is not specifically mentioned in the study, it is the highest profile project in the area.

The EPA’s original the assessment was based on a hypothetical mine scenario that the agency said drew in part on plans and data put forth by Pebble LP, the firm behind the mine. 

The draft underwent peer review, with some panelists raising concerns about things like lack of clarity in the document's objective, missing data and incomplete information. The EPA announced in November that it would address the concerns raised by the panel, first with a revised draft.

The Pebble Partnership responded to the initial draft by saying, “Based on a “hypothetical mining scenario” the document contains a large volume of both technical and theoretical errors, as well as dated, unreliable methodologies. The inadequacies and premature nature of the DBBWA has been widely criticized by the state of the Alaska, statewide and global scientific experts, Alaska businesses and citizens across the state. The rushed document attempted to review the largest span of land ever undertaken by the agency, yet was completed in the shortest time frame compared to other assessments.”

McLerran said the EPA is arranging to have the original experts review the revised assessment and evaluate whether it is responsive to their comments. The EPA plans to release the draft to the public for comment concurrently. He said he expects the additional public comment period and review will be initiated this spring, before the Bristol Bay fishing season begins.

"Our primary objective is to make sure that we have gotten the assessment right and are using the best available science," he said in his prepared remarks. "The Bristol Bay salmon runs are an Alaskan treasure and no one wants to see them harmed, so we want to make sure we have the best understanding possible of what the impacts of large scale mining could be on the salmon."

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said EPA's draft assessment was flawed.

"The agency chose to evaluate a hypothetical mine that was basically designed to violate modern environmental standards," she said in a news release. "Until the EPA fixes this fundamental flaw, the agency's draft assessment will remain a work of fiction rather than sound science."



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