During the first of a three-day meeting to vet the accuracy of EPA’s scientific assessment of Bristol Bay, independent scientists and members of the public testified that the document thoroughly assessed the Bay’s hydrologic and fisheries resources. Many also expressed concerns that the assessment underestimates the risks posed by a large-scale mine like Pebble. An independent peer review panel of experts is offering its analysis and putting the finishing touches on EPA’s findings. Pro-Pebble Mine consultants criticized the assessment as flawed and based on a hypothetical mine scenario.
“The EPA should be applauded for embarking on this thorough and meticulous scientific analysis of their findings. The independent review panel assembled for this purpose is skilled, impartial, and crucial to this process,” said longtime fisheries biologist Dr. Carol Ann Woody, who testified at the public meeting
Released in late May, the EPA assessment recognized Bristol Bay as a singular, unmatched global fishery for sockeye salmon that would be jeopardized by proposals to develop hard rock mines on a massive scale. After the peer review panel adds its input, the Assessment will be finalized and the Obama Administration will decide whether to protect Bristol Bay under the Clean Water Act.
“There has never been a mine permitted in the U.S. where significant, or even minor, offsite water quality problems were predicted in the permitting process,” said Dr. David Chambers, head of the Center for Science in Public Participation, in remarks to the panel. “However, it’s been shown in a number of reports that these problems commonly occur. So when it comes to Pebble, which is in an area with known seismic and flood events, we need to have very conservative assumptions about tailings dam failures.”
Conclusions of the EPA’s scientific assessment include:
EPA officials initiated the Watershed Assessment at the request of nine federally recognized Bristol Bay tribes, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Bristol Bay Native Association, commercial fishing interests, sport fishing and hunting organizations, and concerned citizens from across the US. In order to ensure a thorough, non-partisan assessment, EPA scientists gathered information from numerous sources including the State of Alaska, Federal agencies, Alaska tribes, scientific institutions, published journals, peer-reviewed research, scientific experts, and Alaska Native tribal elders.
The EPA then conducted an unprecedented hearing tour throughout the region attended by more than 2,300 people, more than 90% of whom expressed support for EPA’s report. In addition, more than 210,000 comments were submitted during a 60-day public comment period, with more than 95% support for conserving Bristol Bay from large-scale hard rock mining.