UPDATE: EPA is being out front once again in Alaska, where it just today released a study concluding that the proposed Pebble Mine, a copper mine not utterly dissimilar from Rosemont, would pose risks to salmon and native cultures. Needless to say, Pebble has been at least as big a hot potato up there as Rosemont is down here.


January 15, 2014

EPA Releases Bristol Bay Assessment Describing Potential Impacts to Salmon and Water From Copper, Cold Mining

Agency launched study after requests for action to protect Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale mining

SEATTLE -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today released its final Bristol Bay Assessment describing potential impacts to salmon and ecological resources from proposed large-scale copper and gold mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The report, titled "An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska," concludes that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures. Bristol Bay supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, producing nearly 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon with runs averaging 37.5 million fish each year.

"Over three years, EPA compiled the best, most current science on the Bristol Bay watershed to understand how large-scale mining could impact salmon and water in this unique area of unparalleled natural resources," said Dennis McLerran, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10. "Our report concludes that large-scale mining poses risks to salmon and the tribal communities that have depended on them for thousands of years. The assessment is a technical resource for governments, tribes and the public as we consider how to address the challenges of large-scale mining and ecological protection in the Bristol Bay watershed."

To assess potential mining impacts to salmon resources, EPA considered realistic mine scenarios based on a preliminary plan that was published by Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. and submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. EPA also considered mining industry references and consulted mining experts. Numerous risks associated with large-scale mining are detailed in the assessment:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been a key fulcrum for opponents of the proposed Rosemont Mine in the Santa Rita Mountains. It has written at least four long, highly critical letters about the project since early 2012, topped by its Nov. 7, 2013 missive urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to not approve a federal Clean Water Act permit for the project.

But this article from the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia portrays the EPA in a different light there. The article says EPA, under fire from many elected officials and mining leaders there as anti-coal, has stayed under the radar during the crisis following a chemical spill that disrupted drinking water supplies to 300,000 people.

Here's an excerpt from the article by the Gazette's Ken Ward:

But now -- as a major water crisis prompted by a chemical spill continues --
> EPA officials are nowhere to be found. Agency officials may be working
> behind the scenes, but they've not appeared at government briefings and have
> refused numerous interview requests.
> On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for EPA administrator Gina McCarthy provided this
> prepared statement:
> "EPA continues to work closely with other federal and state agencies in West
> Virginia as they begin implementing a plan for getting the water system back
> on line," said the statement, provided by EPA press officer Alisha Johnson.

Further down, the article notes:

"Despite promises from President Obama that his would be a transparent administration, the Obama EPA has been criticized by groups including the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Union of Concerned Scientists for not being open with the press, the public and the scientific community. Republican leaders in Congress have also seized on the agency's closed-door policies in their efforts to clamp down on EPA regulatory efforts."

Here in Southern Arizona, the EPA has until very recently been relatively open on the Rosemont issue -- answering many, many reporters' questions over the past two years and granting numerous phone interviews to me, personally. The agency has said little about Rosemont, however, since the Nov. 7 letter appeared.