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Pebble data reviewed by scientist panel
Posted 10.5.12 by Renewable Resources Coalition
As more than 100 protesters gathered outside, the first of two weeks of meetings to provide a scientific peer review of baseline data gathered by the Pebble Partnership got underway this week in Anchorage.
The Keystone Center, a Colorado-based nonprofit hired by Pebble to facilitate a dialogue regarding the proposed mine, has assembled panels of scientists to examine everything from geology to socioeconomic data gathered in a 27,000-document that lays out the research done for the controversial Pebble Mine prospect.
"The baseline studies are the foundation for all of the decisions to be made by Pebble with regard to a mine," according to The Keystone Center webpage.
Keystone Center's Todd Bryan said the organization conducted some interviews several years ago with stakeholders in the Bristol Bay region and determined that what people really wanted was an objective analysis of the science behind the mine.
They made the recommendation to Pebble and the partnership agreed.
"They said, 'We believe that our science is credible, and we're happy to put it up against any science panel that you can put together,'" Bryan said.
But critics of the mine say the panels, and the process, are biased, in part because of the nature of the document they are studying. Comparing it to the Environmental Protection Agency's recent draft study of the Bristol Bay watershed, opponents say Pebble's science asks the wrong question.
"The question that's being asked is how to build a mine in Bristol Bay rather than should it be built," said David Shurtleff with Strategies 360. "I also question the timing of these meetings in the middle of the EPAs watershed process, a process asked for by the Bristol Bay region, whereas these meetings were bought and paid for by the mine."
While the organization typically is hired by government agencies to facilitate unbiased analysis of projects where environmental and economic concerns vie off, Bryan said the company's process hasn't changed because Keystone's work is paid for by the Pebble Partnership in this case.
One point of consternation for some is the fact that Pebble's scientific data is uneditable, while data from other scientists is being requested in editable form. Bryan said Keystone requested all data be submitted in an editable form, and Pebble did not submit it that way.
"That's been framed as a double standard and it clearly is not," Bryan said.
But fisheries researcher Carol Ann Woody said the data's form is important.
"In order to look at that data, it needs to be in a format that we can assess it in," she said.
She said she sees other flaws in Pebble's science, from an incomplete analysis of the salmon spawning streams to misidentified aquatic insects.
That's exactly the kind of information Bryan said he hopes the scientific panels will give people a chance to talk about. The experts gathered on the panels are participating without compensation and have to adhere to stringent impartiality requirements set by national standards for such committees. One scientist, Daniel Schindler of the University of Washington, was excused because of he had made prior "strongly worded statements" in opposition to the proposed mine. Bryan said as per the National Research Council policies, panel members must be objective.
"These are all good scientists but when the messenger and how people perceive the messenger gets in the way of the message then people won't hear the message," he said.
Anther scientist, David Montgomery, also from the University of Washington, left the panel, saying without a mine plan it was a flawed panel. The panel is instructed to examine the scientific baseline data in absence of a mine plan because the outcome of the peer review might well dictate the plan, Bryan said.
"It would be putting the cart before the horse," he said. "It's possible that we will find out that they didn't study the right things once the mine plan comes out and then there will be a second evaluation of the baseline data."
Shurtleff said, however, that the Keystone panels are in sharp contrast to the EPA's process, which has been, he said, fully transparent.
"There's an insistence that Keystone is independent, and they might be, but when you are paid that much money and the release format or quality of data is controlled and questions (about the scientific data) appear to have very narrow sideboards on them, one is therefore led to seriously question the merits of Keystone's process," he said.
Bryan said registration has been closed for those wishing to view the panels live at the University of Alaska Anchorage's library conference room, but those wishing to attend can contact Keystone by emailing TAbryan@keystone.org to get on a waiting list. In addition, the panel meetings are all being broadcast online at www.keystone.org/pebble.
A broadcast of the panels will also be held on Oct. 22 via 360 North. For more information, go to www.360north.org