By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
The Environmental Protection Agency is continuing its unprecedented assault on a not-yet-proposed copper mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, releasing a revised version of a controversial report skewered by independent scientists.
The mine’s backer, Pebble Limited Partnership, called the study, assessing the mine’s potential environmental impact on a region about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, flawed. It urged the federal agency to drop to the report.
“While we need to review the document in detail, it seems the EPA has not changed its deeply flawed approach of creating and evaluating a completely hypothetical mine plan, instead of waiting until a real, detailed mine plan is submitted to regulators as part of a complete permit application,” PLP President John Shively said in a news release.
Because PLP, a 50-50 joint venture between Northern Dynasty Minerals and Anglo American, has yet to submit to the Army Corps of Engineers a formal mine plan for more than 60 permits, the EPA projected how the mine might look and how it could affect the environment, including the ecologically sensitive Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds.
The agency released the report’s first draft in May 2012. In August, the EPA gathered 12 independent scientists to review the study and provide feedback, largely negative from many reviewers.
“Unfortunately, because of the hypothetical nature of the approach employed, the uncertainty associated with the assessment … the utility of the assessment, is questionable,” criticized William Stubblefield, a professor in Oregon State University’s Department of Molecular and Environmental Toxicology.
Another participant, University of British Columbia’s Dirk van Zyl, said, “it is impossible to know whether the hypothetical mine scenario is realistic.”
Another reviewer, University of Idaho hydrology expert Charles Slaughter, called key portions of the original study “pure hogwash.”
The study is important because it could ultimately help determine the fate of the mine, which PLP believes has more than 80 million pounds of recoverable copper.
Environmentalists are concerned the mine could hurt the region’s fish population, which sustains more than 14,000 jobs and millions in annual economic revenue. Groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Trout Unlimited are asking the federal government to use a special provision of the Clean Water Act – known as Section 404 – to pre-emptively veto the project before it submits for permitting.
After the agency issued the first report, concerned parties submitted more than 233,000 comments on the project, most petitioning the feds to stop the mine.
The EPA has played coy in its intentions for the mine, but confirmed in a letter to the U.S. Congress that a pre-emptive veto is within its authority.
Alaska state officials are concerned with the EPA’s action on the mine. The Alaska Department of Law issued a statement condemning the latest draft.
“We believe the assessment is premature, as well as any action EPA might take based upon it,” the agency explained. “Any consideration of impacts should be made within the context of an actual proposal and a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit application.”
Pebble has an important friend on Capitol Hill, too. U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chair Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, has threatened to subpoena documents relating to the mine review.
Lawmakers, mainly Republicans, worry overly aggressive action on the EPA’s part could scare off future mine development. Karen Harbert of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told members of Congress last June the mining industry is watching the EPA’s actions relative to the Pebble Mine.
She also warned that, according to numbers provided by The Brattle Group, the EPA’s actions could affect more than $220 billion in mining investments processed annually.
Contact: [email protected] or @DustinHurst via Twitter.