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Bristol Bay Final Peer Review Released #EPA

Shore of Bristol Bay
Shore of Bristol Bay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
11-9-2012 (Full report embedded below summary.) - EPA has released the Final Peer Review Report prepared by the independent peer reviewers charged with evaluating EPA’s May 2012 draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed entitled An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska (Bristol Bay Assessment).

Science is the foundation that supports all of our work at EPA. The quality of our science is vital to the credibility of EPA’s decisions and ultimately the Agency’s effectiveness in protecting human health and the environment. EPA’s peer review process is open, transparent, and is designed to gather expert, knowledgeable input to ensure that EPA’s products are based upon defensible, high quality science.

This Final Peer Review Report represents the culmination of a four-month review of EPA’s draft Bristol Bay Assessment and reflects the comments provided by 12 expert scientists and engineers. This team of experts was convened by an independent contractor following procedures that are consistent with EPA and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidelines for independent external peer review. The 12 peer reviewers were chosen by the independent contractor with input from the public and included experts in the fields of mine engineering, salmon fisheries biology, aquatic ecology, aquatic toxicology, hydrology, wildlife ecology and Alaska Native cultures. Peer reviewers were asked to comment on the draft Bristol Bay Assessment and 14 charge questions developed by EPA with input from the public.

The peer review process included a three-day meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, during which the peer reviewers discussed the draft Bristol Bay Assessment and heard testimony from approximately 100 members of the public. The process also included a 60-day public comment period, during which over 230,000 public comment letters were received.

EPA will carefully consider the comments and suggestions provided by the peer reviewers in improving the draft Bristol Bay Assessment. The Final Peer Review Report provides EPA with constructive input on each chapter and appendix of the draft Bristol Bay Assessment and recommendations for strengthening the Assessment’s analysis and findings. These recommendations will be instrumental to ensuring that the final Bristol Bay Assessment is based on the most relevant information available, reflects the best science, and is of high scientific quality.

Based on the comments, and EPA’s commitment to fully address them, EPA has decided to convene a group of qualified experts to review the revised draft assessment in light of the issues raised by the peer reviewers. The final Bristol Bay Assessment will reflect this further expert review and be accompanied by EPA’s point-by-point response to the peer reviewers’ comments as well as public comments. These “response to comment” documents will be available when the final Bristol Bay Assessment is released.

EPA is already taking steps to incorporate key input from the peer reviewers, including:

  • Clarifying the overall purpose and objective of the Assessment
  • Clarifying the development and use of a realistic mining scenario

Expanding the use of the conceptual models throughout the Assessment to better illustrate how mining activities could potentially affect Bristol Bay’s fishery resources
Enhancing the review of modern mining practices to consider additional strategies for mitigation of potential adverse impacts of mining.

The Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, is home to 25 Federally Recognized Tribal Governments, and contains large mineral resources. The potential for large-scale mining activities in the watershed has raised concerns about the impact of mining on the sustainability of Bristol Bay’s world-class fisheries, and the future of Alaska Native tribes in the watershed who have maintained a salmon-based culture and subsistence-based lifestyle for at least 4,000 years.

In 2010, EPA received petitions from nine tribal governments requesting that we use our authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay from potential large-scale mining. We also received requests for EPA to allow the permitting process to run its normal course. EPA chose to launch the Bristol Bay Assessment to determine the significance of Bristol Bay’s ecological resources and evaluate the potential impacts of future large-scale mining on these resources. EPA will use the results of this assessment to inform the consideration of options consistent with our role under the Clean Water Act.