EPA releases revised draft assessment

On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a revised draft of its Bristol Bay watershed assessment – a follow-up to a first draft published in May 2012. The assessment looks at the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds of Bristol Bay, with a focus on how large-scale mine development such as the proposed Pebble mine could impact water and fish.

The new version incorporates input from tribes, community meetings and a scientific peer review panel held in fall 2012, as well as about 233,000 public comments EPA received in response to the May 2012 draft, said EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran. “We tried to address the critical comments as well as the supportive comments around the assessment,” he said.

The revision is available for download and review at EPA’s Bristol Bay website, and a public comment period on this revision is open until Friday, May 31, 2013.

Additions included factoring in the development of a roadway corridor and potential for spills from pipelines, said McLerran, as well as changes to the mining scenarios to clarify their risk-assessment approach. “We refined the mine scenarios and explained how they are typical of modern mining standards,” he explained. This revision, he said, assumes “these conventional modern mining techniques are in place and operating correctly.”

“This gives the most accurate scenarios based on good science.”

During the public comment period, the original peer reviewers also will revisit the document to evaluate the agency’s revisions. EPA expects to finalize the assessment by the end of the year.

According to a fact sheet, the assessment will provide “a scientific and technical foundation for future decision-making, helping EPA evaluate options consistent with our role under the Clean Water Act.” But, as McLerran emphasized in a press conference Friday, it is not intended as a regulatory document.

“This is a scientific document,” said McLerran. “This document is intended to help educate in decision-making to help protect Bristol Bay as a resource … in future governmental decisions that might be made.”

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