EPA releases proposed restrictions for large-scale mining in Bristol Bay

Today EPA released a Proposed Determination that details restrictions it is recommending in order to protect the Bristol Bay fishery from adverse effects of large-scale mining of the Pebble deposit.

Here are some highlights of that document, which is open to public review and comment through September 19, 2014.

EPA says developers were unable to prove that there would be no unacceptable effects.

EPA asked Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM), Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) and State of Alaska for information that could prove that no unacceptable effects would occur due to disposal of dredge or fill materials associated with mining the deposit. They submitted information, but it did not convince the EPA.

Proposed mitigation plans are not adequate according to EPA.

Compensatory mitigation efforts proposed by PLP have not typically been effective long-term and are unlikely to offset adverse impacts, according to EPA.

EPA underestimates potential impact.

EPA used a “conservative analysis” when looking at possible negative effects of dredge/fill discharge in the area. EPA’s proposed restrictions are based on adverse effects from construction and routine operation of a 20-year mine (extracting approximately .25 billion tons of ore). EPA notes that adverse impacts would occur with a mine of longer life, and are also likely due to accidents.

EPA selects limited area for restriction.

EPA limited the area in which it is proposing restrictions to the waters within the mine claims “held by NDM subsidiaries, including PLP, that fall within the South Fork Koktuli, North Fork Koktuli, and Upper Talarik Creek Watersheds.”

Proposed restrictions are specific to stream loss and alteration and loss of wetlands, lakes and ponds.

EPA has provided specific numbers in its proposed restrictions. Any discharge of dredge/fill that would lead to the following would be prohibited:

  • Loss of five miles or more of salmon streams (or loss of 19 or more miles of streams that are tributaries of salmon streams)
  • Loss of 1,100 or more acres of wetlands, lakes and ponds that connect with salmon streams or tributaries of those streams
  • Alterations greater than 20% of daily flow in 9 or more linear miles of salmon streams 

If these restrictions are approved, only a mine plan that meets those restrictions could move forward to permitting.

During the ongoing 404(c) process, no permits can be authorized for large-scale mining at the Pebble deposit. After the 404(c) process is complete — if restrictions are finalized — any mine plan would need to fully meet the restrictions in order to proceed to the first stage of the permitting process.

The public can comment through September 19, 2014.

The public is encouraged to comment on the Proposed Determination. There will likely be public meetings in August. Citizens can submit commentary during those meetings or in writing.

EPA’s Executive Summary

EPA’s Proposed Determination

Link to public comment. (Specify Docket # EPA-R10-OW-2014-0505.)

Pebble Watch Guide to the 404(c) process