by Shoren Brown
Last week, the EPA’s draft Watershed Assessment was front and center as a peer review panel of science experts praised and analyzed the document. They said EPA underplayed the potential long-term impacts of mine development – including roads, pipelines, sewage treatment facilities and housing – on the watershed, fish and wildlife. They also pressed for more information on the effects of mining to migratory birds, other marine mammals and human health.
The panel also expressed concerns about whether the “no failure” scenario considered was realistic as mines experience one kind of failure or another; how any company or government could manage massive mine waste impoundments “in perpetuity;” and whether a mine with a potential 78-year lifespan could or should be permitted.
Although representatives of the Pebble Limited Partnership and Northern Dynasty called the Assessment rushed, inadequate and based on a hypothetical mine plan, EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran defended the agency’s work. "We think those statements -- that this is rushed and flawed -- are just inaccurate," he said "We have had a very rigorous process and a lengthy process." McLerran added that more than 90 percent of the 220,000 public comments submitted to the agency support the EPA's work on the watershed assessment.
At the same time, a new report details chronic pipeline spills, uncontrolled seepage, and other failures at operating U.S. copper mines, and finds that the proposed Pebble Mine would have an extremely high likelihood of releasing toxic substances into the Bristol Bay watershed. And, a post in the Mudflats examines the downside of copper mining in Butte, Montana, noting that the Berkeley Pit at the Kelley Mine is now a Superfund cleanup site with major water quality management issues, funded by taxpayers.
Shoren Brown is the Save Bristol Bay campaign director for Trout Unlimited.