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McCollum, Pingree Question Forest Service Decision to Allow Foreign Mining Company To Write Its Own Biological Assessment

January 27, 2020
Press Release
Lawmakers request USFS revoke its decision allowing Midas Gold to write report detailing Stibnite project’s risks to wildlife

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.) and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Chair and Vice Chair of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, respectively, are questioning the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to allow Canadian mining company Midas Gold to conduct its own Biological Assessment to be used in the Environmental Impact Statement for the company’s proposed open-pit gold mine in central Idaho. The letter notes that the Forest Service’s decision raises serious concerns about potential conflicts between the public’s interest versus the corporation’s profit interest – as well as questions of scientific integrity.  

The lawmakers, joined by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Congresswoman Nanette Barragán (D-CA), and Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-NM) wrote:

“The salmon and steelhead runs at risk from these mining activities provide valuable public resources, with recreational, subsistence, cultural, and economic importance to the region. The Nez Perce Tribe has invested considerable resources restoring salmon and salmon habitat in the area harmed by previous mining operations. Granting non-federal representative (NFR) designation for a major cyanide leach gold mine to a Canadian mining company is unnecessary, inappropriate, and conflicts with the public’s interest in unbiased science-led decision making.”

The lawmakers continued: 

“… Emails obtained by Earthworks through a Freedom of Information Request show Midas applied for NFR status on January 12, 2018, and the Payette Forest Supervisor initially intended to deny the request. Yet, by December 12, 2018, the USFS had reversed that position and given Midas Gold NFR status and the authority to draft the Biological Assessment. Despite the Forest Supervisor’s opposition, records indicate Midas did receive NFR status only after further ‘conversations with Midas, legal counsel, and the Region, and Washington Office’. The Forest Supervisor had based his initial denial, in part, on an anticipated ‘may affect, likely to adversely affect’ determination under Section 7 of the ESA, meaning the Stibnite mine project is likely to adversely affect the salmon and trout or their habitat. A ‘may affect, likely to adversely affect’ determination may also require Midas to perform mitigation measures or alterations to the proposed mine plan that could increase their construction, operation, reclamation, or other costs. Midas therefore has a compelling financial interest in avoiding this determination or underestimating the magnitude of the potential adverse impacts of a ‘may effect’ determination. To avoid this conflict, USFS should require an independent, unbiased expert to write the BA.”

Background:

  • Midas Gold, a Canadian mining company, has proposed an open-pit gold mine in an area close to important fish habitats, including the habitat of a federally-protected and endangered salmon species. The Nez Perce Tribe also has treaty rights to the area.
  • A Biological Assessment is a report typically compiled by the U.S. Forest Service or an independent contractor to determine the effects a proposed project would have on the surrounding wildlife. In this case, the Biological Assessment’s purpose is to examine the potential effect the open-pit mine would have on the Chinook salmon, Snake River Steelhead, and bull trout species protected under the Endangered Species Act. 
  • Further detail was reported by The Associated Press: Documents: Mining company writing own environmental report [December 13, 2019]
  • The full text of the letter can be found here.