Advocates for a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine in Southwest Alaska fired another round of protest this week against a draft federal report assessing the pros and cons of such a mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed.
In its 205-page submission to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. called the EPA's draft document and the process to complete it "biased, manipulative and contrary to EPA's own guidelines."
Opponents of the mine, including several federally recognized tribes and others who requested the EPA study, note that the Bristol Bay watershed already is an economic powerhouse, providing some 14,000 jobs and a $1.5 billion seafood industry. Development of such a massive mine at this location could have potential devastating effects on the fishery, they say.
The revised assessment, released on April 26, notes a number of adverse effects such a mine could have on the region, even without catastrophic events. Building the mine, for example, could wipe out as many as 90 miles of streams and alter stream flows, the report said. EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran acknowledged that the revised document generally affirms conclusions reached last year in the initial report.
The draft EPA document, in fact, makes conservative assumptions that there are many cumulative risks and potential lasting effects that could be detrimental to the fisheries, including leaks, spills, accidents and failures in the mining process. The document also notes that a minimum of miles and miles of salmon streams would be lost in the process of development the Pebble mine.
Still the EPA is a long way from its final decision on whether to stop the mine by employing provisions of the Clear Water Act. McLerran has said the agency "has made no decision about if or how it might use our authority under the Clean Water Act, or other laws, to protect Bristol Bay."
Mine proponents steer clear of this subject in their protest of the draft document, focusing only on alleged great economic returns to the region and the state.
Northern Dynasty Minerals, of Vancouver, British Columbia, is a co-owner with Anglo American plc, a British multinational mining company based in London, of the Pebble Limited Partnership, created in 2007, with offices in Anchorage, Alaska.
The proposed mine, the partnership says, will be built and operated with the highest environmental and mining standards, and co-exist with the multi-million dollar commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries of Bristol Bay.
Until they have released their specific plans for the project, they argue, judgment on whether it will meet the required environmental criteria should be withheld, they argue, because the EPA, for one, doesn't have a real plan from which to judge.
Less than a week earlier, the Pebble Partnership released an economic study paid for by the partnership contending that developing Pebble "could have significant economic impacts to the state of Alaska including an estimated $136 to $180 million in annual taxes and royalties, annual expenditures that could place the operation among the top tier companies in the state, and an estimated 600 percent increase in new tax revenue for the Lake and Peninsula Borough."
In April, the Pebble Partnership announced an $80 million budget for the 2013 season, adding to millions already spent on environmental research alone.
Trout Unlimited expressed surprise over the Pebble Limited Partnership's release of an economic study touting jobs and benefits of the mine after saying repeatedly that they have no mine plan to evaluate.
"Pebble has a well-established track record of understating the costs and risks associated with a giant open pit mine at Bristol Bay's headwaters and exaggerating the benefits," said Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited's Alaska Program. "This report is the latest example of this behavior. What we do know with certainty is that painstakingly peer reviewed science tells us these guys will put 14,000 real world jobs out of commission, PLP can tout all the numbers it wants, but it won't change the fact that the Pebble mine is simply a risk not worth taking."
"It's good to have a report confirm what many of us have known – that the Bristol Bay salmon fishery is a vital industry that plays a huge role in the economies of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest," said Mark Palmer, president and chief executive officer of Ocean Beauty Seafoods. "We are proud to be part of an industry that's been managed responsibly for more than 100 years and to support the people who harvest delicious wild Bristol Bay salmon."
Ronald Thiessen, president and chief executive officer of Northern Dynasty Minerals, alleges in his criticism of the revised document, that it suffers from the same major shortcomings as the original report published in May 2012. "In particular," Thiessen said, "EPA continues to assess the environmental effects of a hypothetical mine of its own invention, one that does not employ modern engineering standards, environmental safeguards or project-specific mitigation measures and could not be permitted under U.S. or Alaska law."
The deadline for submitting public comment on the revised Bristol Bay watershed assessment is June 30.
The document can be viewed here.
Send online to www.regulations.gov Specify Docket #EPA-HQ-ORD-2013-0189
Email ORD.Docket@epa.gov, including EPA-HQ-ORD-2013-0189 in the subject line
This story first appeared in The Cordova Times and is republished here with permission