The US Environmental Protection Agency has released its final peer review report, prepared by independent peer reviewers charged with evaluating the EPA’s draft assessment of how large-scale mining could affect the Bristol Bay watershed. Although not specifically named, the big issue is development of large-scale copper mining at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon run.
The EPA said that based on those comments and a commitment to fully address them that the federal agency has decided to convene a group of qualified experts to review its revised draft assessment. The final Bristol Bay assessment will reflect this further expert review and be accompanied by the EPA’s point-by-point response to the peer reviewers’ comments as well as public comments, the EPA said.
Bob Waldrop of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association said that while scientific review of mining the Pebble deposit – of copper, gold and molybdenum – is important and welcome, that no amount of peer review can change the core risks to the fishery and fishermen identified by the watershed assessment, its vast magnitude and location at the headwaters of the world’s most valuable wild salmon fishery.
Tim Bristol, Alaska program director for Trout Unlimited, commended the EPA for “its continued commitment to a thorough, transparent, independent and science-based process for protecting Bristol Bay. The peer review report underscores what we’ve known all along: mining on the scope and scale of Pebble simply cannot coexist with Bristol Bay’s Fish,” he said.
The Natural Resources Defense Council also applauded the peer review report, saying that if anything the draft watershed assessment actually underestimated the risk of large-scale mining to the watershed. The NRDC urged the EPA to finalize the watershed assessment, incorporating recommendations from the peer review report to examine all aspects of harm associated with the proposed Pebble mine.
Pebble proponents continue to maintain that large-scale mining and the world-class salmon fishery can co-exist.