Nov. 15, 2012
Late last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the final judgment of a panel of independent experts retained to review its work to date on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA), in a report entitled '
External Peer Review of EPA's Draft Document: An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska
In a wide-ranging critique of the draft report's methodology and findings, Peer Review Panelists called the EPA's effort to evaluate the effects of a 'hypothetical mining scenario' on the water, fish, wildlife and cultural resources of
" and "
." Reviewers consistently stated it is not possible to fully assess the effects of a project like the proposed Pebble mine in a region like Bristol Bay in the absence of a definitive mine plan.
The authors have attempted to develop a hypothetical mine and attempted to assess possible environmental effects associated with mine development, operation, and closure
," said Dr.
, a senior professor at
Oregon State University
and an expert in environmental toxicology. "
Although interesting, the potential reality of the assessment is somewhat questionable. It is also unclear why EPA undertook this evaluation, given that a more realistic assessment could probably have been conducted once an actual mine was proposed and greater detail about operational parameters available
The EPA initiated the BBWA in
in response to requests from certain opponents of the Pebble Project to use its power under section 404c of the US
Clean Water Act
to veto the project prior to the Pebble Limited Partnership (the "Pebble Partnership" or "PLP") submitting a proposed development plan or applying for permits. After reducing the scope of its assessment on a number of occasions, the federal agency completed the draft BBWA report in just over a year, where previous EPA assessments of other watersheds have taken 4 - 9 years to study significantly smaller areas of land.
In addition to questioning the reasonableness of EPA efforts to assess the effects of a project that has not yet been defined, a series of other criticisms were consistently raised by Peer Review Panelists:
- the draft BBWA report suffers from a lack of sufficient data and information to support the conclusions reached, yet the report authors in many cases overlooked the voluminous site-specific data provided by PLP as part of its ' Environmental Baseline Document'
- the draft BBWA report over-estimates both the likelihood and consequence of a range of potential systems and operational failures;
- the draft BBWA report presents inappropriate and misleading case studies;
- the 'hypothetical mining scenario' presented in the draft BBWA does not employ 'best mining practices', or the alternative engineering approaches, environmental safeguards and other mitigation strategies commonly used at modern mines to avoid environmental effects.