2015

08 October 2015

Pebble-sponsored report into EPA actions released

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 Last year Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) CEO Tom Collier announced the company would be “punching back” against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its efforts to limit development at the Pebble deposit in Bristol Bay.

In addition to litigation (ongoing) and a call for the EPA Inspector General to investigate the federal agency (also ongoing), PLP hired William S. Cohen to complete an independent review of EPA’s actions in conducting its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.

In the report, released Tuesday, Cohen concludes that, “EPA’s application of Section 404(c) prior to the filing of a permit application was not fair to all stakeholders.” He called for “the EPA’s Inspector General and Congress to continue to explore… questions which might further illuminate EPA’s motives and better determine whether EPA has met its core obligations of government service and accountability.”

Read the report.

Read the executive summary.

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06 October 2015

Video highlights Bristol Bay salmon research program

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The University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fisheries Science Alaska Salmon Program has been studying salmon and other fish in Bristol Bay for nearly 70 years. 

What do fish researchers do? How do they do it? This award-winning video by scientist/videographer Jason Ching blends historical photos and a straight-forward narrative with captivating camera-work: overhead views of Bristol Bay, close-up underwater images of fish in various stages of the life-cycle and time-lapse scenes of researchers at work.

Watch the video.

More about the Alaska Salmon Program - The Alaska Salmon Program is the longest-running salmon research initiative anywhere in the world, with data collection going back to 1946. This data is available to the public upon specific request.

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News Roundup: October 6, 2015

This week's news related to the proposed Pebble mine includes the release William Cohen's report on the EPA and details about Pebble Partnership's litigation activity as it pursues a case against the EPA.

Secretary William S. Cohen Releases The Report Of His Independent Review Concerning The United States Environmental Protection Agency's Actions In Connection With Its Evaluation Of Potential Mining In Alaska's Bristol Bay Watershed (October 6, 2015 – PR Newswire)

Last spring the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) hired William S. Cohen to conduct an independent review of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and development of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. Cohen released the 364-page report today. In it, he calls for further investigation of the EPA by Congress and EPA’s Inspector General.

Read the story.

Pebble subpoenas emails, documents from anti-mine activists (October 3, 2015 – Alaska Dispatch News)

Alaska Dispatch News reports on the Pebble Limited Partnership’s (PLP) pursuit of information over the last decade from more than 60 individuals. PLP hopes to support its case against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which was in the process of development limitations on development at Pebble when a federal judge approved a preliminary injunction against continuing that process until litigation had been resolved. As part of the litigation, PLP has issued subpoenas to EPA employees, former employees, scientists, activists who have spoken out against the mine, and others. Some individuals have filed documents attempting to quash the subpoena requests, citing – among other reasons – the broad scope of the subpoena (covering 11 years worth of emails), burden and cost associated with a response, and negative impact it would have on their future participation in publically debated issues.

Read the story/view documents.

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03 September 2015

News Roundup: September 3, 2015

Recent news includes updates on President Obama's visit to Bristol Bay, Pebble Partnership's litigation against the EPA, Northern Dynasty's fundraising and future plans, and Mount Polley/Animas River spill updates.

President Obama's visit to Bristol Bay

In Dillingham, President Obama does Yup'ik dance, talks up wild Alaska salmon (September 2, 2015 - Alaska Dispatch News)

This article from Alaska Dispatch News includes several photos from President Obama's visit to Dillingham, and an overview of what he got to see and do there.

Read the full story.

Obama heads to remote reaches of Alaska on last day of tour (September 2, 2015 - Reuters)

Obama visits the Nushagak River and speaks with Alannah Hurley of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. Read the full story.

Battle over Bristol Bay pits Salmon against Gold (August 31, 2015 - NBC news)

This article summarizes the Pebble mine debate within the context of President Obama's visit to Dillingham: "The showdown will be highlighted when President Barack Obama...visits the nearby city of Dillingham to talk to fisherman on Wednesday who are convinced the salmon fishery and the Pebble Mine — which could bring in an estimated $64

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26 July 2015

Timeline of Pebble events

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Pebble Watch has updated its "Permitting Timeline" resource to reflect an overview of major events related to development of the Pebble deposit and a general summary of permitting/production timelines.

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07 July 2015

Mount Polley Tailings Dam Breach Reports & Investigations

Several reports have been published related to various aspects of the August 2014 tailings pond failure at Mount Polley mine in British Columbia. Additional investigations are still underway, from the Canadian government as well as from mine owner Imperial Metals.*

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02 July 2015

Lessons from Mount Polley

“It’s probable Mount Polley will get a permit to open in the next couple of weeks.”  – Bill Bennett, British Columbia Energy and Mines Minister, June 30, 2015

After the tailings dam breached at Mount Polley mine in British Columbia, Canada, last August and discharged contaminants into a Fraser River tributary, Alaska developers urged the public to avoid speculation on the cause and wait for a thorough investigation to be conducted. The Mount Polley breach would provide lessons for mining companies all over the world, Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) CEO Tom Collier said. 

Now that the mine is likely to reopen, what lessons have been learned?

At the time of the breach, some Alaskans expressed concern about the dam failure for a few reasons. Mount Polley is owned by Imperial Metals, the same company that recently opened the Red Chris copper mine upstream from the Stikine River, noted as one of the largest salmon habitats in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Additionally, the engineer of record for the failed tailings dam at Mount Polley is Knight Piesold, the same company PLP contracted to design the tailings facility at the proposed Pebble mine.

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29 May 2015

EPA argues for dismissal in FACA case brought by Pebble Partnership

PLPCASEupdateFederal Judge H. Russel Holland heard oral arguments Thursday in one of the cases Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) has brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In this case, PLP asserts that EPA violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) during the process of developing the 2014 Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, a document the EPA took into account when deciding to initiate the rarely used 404(c) process to consider protections for a defined area in Bristol Bay near the Pebble deposit.

EPA was in the midst of the 404(c) process last fall when Judge Holland approved a preliminary injunction that forbade further work on it until a decision could be made in the FACA case.

EPA has asked the court to dismiss the case. 

During closing arguments, Brad Rosenberg of the U.S. Department of Justice argued, “Let’s just assume for a moment that EPA had perhaps already made up its mind in 2010 or 2008 that it wanted to impose some form of restrictions on the Pebble mine site … that’s not a FACA violation. Agencies sometimes have opinions, just as this court may have an opinion on how it’s going to rule on the government’s motion to dismiss before I get up here and argue that it should do so.”

Judge Holland nodded. After hearing arguments from both sides, he said that he would make a decision as quickly as he could, but “there are a lot of issues to grapple with here.”

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18 May 2015

Bobby Andrew, longtime activist for Bristol Bay, passes

32bobbysmilesYup'ik Elder Bobby Andrew, who had spoken out for years against the development of the proposed Pebble mine, died May 12 of natural causes at his cabin at Lake Alegnagik. The 72-year-old had frequently travelled far beyond his native Bristol Bay to speak out about the impact he believed the mine would have on the fishery and the people of the region. He spoke to legislators in Washington D.C. and to Anglo American and Rio Tinto mining executives in London (companies that subsequently pulled away from the project). He testified to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in support of its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, and pushed for the agency to complete Section 404(c) proceedings that would limit development at the Pebble deposit.

Locally, he had served on the Alegnagik Tribal Council, the Nushagak Mulchatna Watershed Council, and the Nushagak-Mulchatna Wood-Tikchik Land Trust, and as spokesperson for Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of Our Land), an association of eight Alaska Native villages in Bristol Bay. Andrew was a central character in the 2013 documentary film, "We Can't Eat Gold," in which he states, "We can't eat gold, but we can eat salmon."

Photo credit: Giovanna Marcantonio. Bobby Andrew on the set of "We Can't Eat Gold."

Bobby Andrew submitted official comments to EPA regarding its 404(c) process

Image credit: EPA public document. Bobby Andrew testified to the EPA numerous times in support of protections for Bristol Bay.

KDLG story

Bristol Bay Times story

Alaska Dispatch story

Links to some of Bobby Andrew's work speaking out about Pebble mine:

2014 Interview with Bobby Andrew, IC Magazine

"We Can't Eat Gold" documentary trailer

2010 op-ed in The Guardian, London newspaper

2013 article in The Guardian

 

 

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11 May 2015

New Mt. Polley report concludes metals could affect important fish species

Researchers from the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) were some of the first on the scene after an August 4, 2014 tailings pond breach released an estimated 2.6 billion gallons of wastewater and 1.3 billion cubic yards of tailings into the watershed in the Polley Lake/Hazeltine Creek/Quesnel Lake area of British Columbia.

The scientists were already well familiar with the area, having collaborated on other projects in Quesnel Lake. They began sampling right away and continued to gather data for two months.  A report on their findings, co-authored by five researchers and their collaborators, has been published in the online journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Some findings:

- Both the level of the lake and the temperature of the lake bottom have increased. The level increased by 7.7 cm, and the temperature increased by 1 to 2.5 degrees C.

- Observable impacts of a sediment plume may be reduced, but tailings and scour materials continue to be transported throughout Quesnel Lake.

- Ultra-fine sediment is still suspended in the lake (enough to cover a surface area of around 642 square miles).

- Each spring this lake experiences isothermic conditions during which the temperature is the same from top to bottom of the lake. These conditions allow for ready mixing of materials, potentially bringing settled tailings and scour material back into the water column. 

- Waste materials currently present in the lake could affect the metal content of aquatic food webs and are a potential hazard to the "growth, survival, and behavior of important fish species."

In their report, researchers wrote that they expect spill-related metals in Quesnel Lake to accumulate in salmon and trout over time, and said further study is warranted to measure and evaluate how the contaminants move and enter food webs, as well as "long-term trends in metals of concern in resident and migratory fish species."

While immediate impacts to fish were not observed in the days following the spill, it is unclear how they could be affected over time. The UNBC report notes that juvenile salmon "likely entered the turbid bottom waters and were exposed to materials associated with the mine spill for substantial periods each day." In addition, the "progeny of the 2013 nondominant cycle line were rearing within Quesnel Lake during and following the breach event."

UNBC press release

Full Report: The impact of a catastrophic mine tailings impoundment spill into one of North America's largest fjord lakes: Quesnel Lake, British Columbia, Canada

Read more: Vancouver Sun article

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