A dozen experts in relevant fields are being paid to review the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's study of how a large mine would affect Bristol Bay's prized salmon runs. The EPA didn't examine a particular mine, but instead used a hypothetical case based on a project description by Northern Dynasty Minerals, one of the companies working to develop a massive gold and copper prospect in the Bristol Bay area.
This week, the scientists discussed their impressions of the EPA assessment -- a 338-page main report plus 842 pages of appendices -- in a meeting open to anyone who registered to attend.
"We are not deciding now or any time in the future whether this mine will be built or it will not be built. Rather, we are critiquing the science associated with this report," said the panel chairman, Roy Stein. The panel isn't rewriting the report itself, but instead will submit detailed comments to help the EPA in its work.
The Pebble project is hugely controversial. More than 200,000 people submitted written comments to the EPA about its watershed study.
Dennis McLerran, administrator of the EPA's Seattle-based region, said the agency is focused on "getting the science right."
"This is exactly what we hoped it would be, which is an independent panel of scientists having a dialogue back and forth amongst themselves about the important issues here," McLerran said.
EPA hired contractors to guide the expert review. The agency hopes to have its draft report reworked and made final by year's end, McLerran said. Only then will it decide whether to halt the Pebble project before it starts.