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EPA to Review Alaska’s Bristol Bay Mine

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that it will conduct a study of Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed to assess the potential impact of development projects on the area’s commercial sockeye salmon fishery.

The agency said it decided to perform the scientific review after being petitioned by the Bristol Bay Native Corp. and nine Alaska native tribes, which voiced concerns over the Pebble Mine development project.

The proposed gold, copper, and molybdenum mine would be located between two of the region’s major salmon spawning streams and just west of the state’s largest lake.

“By 2006 estimates, the open pit mine would be two miles wide and produce up to 2.5 billion tons of acid-generating waste rock and discharged chemicals,” the Bristol Bay Native Corp. said in requesting the study, according to

Opponents of the prospect also say the mine would have a footprint covering 15 square miles, and that its accompanying network of roads and power lines  would effectively transform the landscape and locals’ way of life, AP reports.

John Shively, chief executive of Pebble Limited Partnership, called the review premature, saying the proposal is still in the planning stages. Gov. Sean Parnell also said he thought it would be better to wait for the permit applications, AP reports.

Republican Alaska Rep. Don Young slammed the EPA’s decision on Monday, saying the agency is “blatantly circumventing” the state’s permit process.

“Gathering data and getting public input now, before development occurs, just makes sense,” said EPA Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran. “Doing this we can be assured that our future decisions are grounded in the best science and information and in touch with the needs of these communities.”

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Groups Oppose EPA Analysis of Coal Ash Prior to Regulations

Three environmental groups are challenging figures in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s report on coal ash, a potentially harmful byproduct of coal-burning in industrial facilities and power plants.

The dispute comes as the EPA prepares first-ever regulations for the disposal of coal ash in the wake of the catastrophic Tennessee Valley spill that dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of the sludge into the Emory River two years ago.

The agency is considering two proposals. The first would give the toxic residue a “hazardous” label and impose new federal regulations for construction of containment facilities. The second option, heavily favored by industry supporters, would classify the substance as “non-hazardous” and encourage facilities to recycle their coal ash into building materials like cement and drywall.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Stockholm Environment Institute’s U.S. Center released an analysis of the EPA’s findings Wednesday claiming that the agency has exaggerated the value of coal ash recycling. The EPA stated in its report that the practice is worth $23 billion in health benefits, pollution avoidance, and lowered energy costs. The groups estimate the annual worth of coal ash recycling to be $1.15 billion while posing serious risks for the environment and human health.

“The concern we have is so loudly exaggerating the economic benefit of coal ash recycling,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, according to Bloomberg. “The noise that creates has sort of drowned out the concern over health and safety of properly disposing this kind of material.”

The groups voiced their support of the stricter program, which they say would protect communities near power plant-operated coal ash containment ponds.

They also noted in a statement Wednesday that there are as many as 50 unregulated coal ash dumps around the country similar to the one that broke down in the Tennessee Valley two years ago.

EPA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said the agency would review the report along with over 400,000 public comments submitted to officials.

Posted in Coal, Hazardous Waste, Industrial Pollution, Industrial Waste, Minerals & Mining, Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

Rockefeller Asks Obama Administration for Mining Accident Update

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., has requested that the government update the families of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion victims on the ongoing federal investigation of the accident.

The Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has not provided the families of the 29 miners with any information since September, Rockefeller said in a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

“Three months is too long for these families to wait for information,” Rockefeller wrote, according to The Associated Press. “I request that MSHA meet with these families as soon as possible, and that you provide me with the expected date that this briefing will occur. Further, I would also request an update on the status of MSHA’s investigation, including when we can expect the investigation to be completed.”

The April 5 disaster occurred 1,000 feet underground in a Massey Energy mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. It was the deadliest mining accident in the U.S. since 1970.

In addition to MSHA’s civil investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice is also conducting a criminal probe. Massey Energy denies responsibility for the accident, claiming the blast was caused by an unexpected overflow of natural gas. MSHA has largely rejected this explanation, AP reports.

The agency announced that it plans to meet with the families after the holidays.

“Our response to Senator Rockefeller’s letter will provide additional details, including an outline of our ongoing efforts to keep the victims’ families up to date on the status of the investigation,” the Labor Department said in a statement.

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Rio Tinto Employees Admit to Taking Bribes

SHANGHAI, March 22 (UPI) — The trial of Rio Tinto mining company employees in China opened with three men pleading guilty to accepting bribes, their lawyers said.

A fourth employee of the British-Australian mining giant is also expected to plead guilty, The New York Times reported Monday.

The case includes allegations that Rio Tinto executive Steve Hu and three Chinese employees stole secrets from state-owned companies and took about $12 million in bribes.

After nine months of detention, the trial began Monday with the admissions that could result in 10-year prison sentences.

The Australian consul general in Shanghai, Tom Connors, confirmed Hu had made “some admissions.”

Zhang Peihong, who is defending Wang Yong, said his client, accused of taking $10 million in bribes, pleaded guilty to accepting $1 million.

The arrests of the four employees in July came shortly after Rio Tinto turned down a $19.5 billion joint project with Chinalco, one of China’s largest mining companies, raising concerns that the accusations were retaliation for the company’s decision.

Later this week, the trial is expected to change direction, focusing on accusations that the employees stole company secrets.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Ancient Granite Basins in California Produced Salt for Trade

SACRAMENTO, Dec. 29 (UPI) — Geologists say they’ve found more than 350 ancient granite basins used by California’s Miwok tribe to produce salt for trade.

The Miwok were a hunting and gathering tribe who lived in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains for nearly 5,000 years before contact with European Americans in 1769.

They were one of the first groups America Indian tribes to begin producing salt for trade, said Jim Moore, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The basins Moore’s team found were carved in granite in an area the size of a football field, each basin several feet in diameter. The basins were carved near a salt spring and the water carried to the basins to dry and leave a salt residue.

“To deepen the basins just 1 centimeter, they had to build and maintain a hot fire on the rock, let it burn out, and then pound the bedrock with stone tools,” said geologist Mike Diggles. That process had to be repeated nearly 100 times to carve a basin 3-feet deep, Diggles said, estimating it would have taken several workers nearly a year to create one basin.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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