STIBNITE GOLD MINE: New mine plan needs a new environmental review!

The massive open-pit Stibnite Mine would use cyanide to extract gold on public lands in the headwaters of Idaho’s Salmon River—one of the most cherished and economically important waterways in the northwest. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the mine was released for public review in August, 2020. It’s not good enough, and we’re asking the Forest Service to demand a new review.

The mining company, Midas Gold, is touting its mining plan as “restoration” because it proposes to clean up legacy mine pollution at the site.  However, the new mine plan is vastly larger than the footprint of legacy mine waste. Make no mistake: this is a mining project, with severe and lasting impacts to the land, water, wildlife and tribes that call this region home.

Here are some of the major impacts identified in the DEIS and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  1. Harm to indigenous people. The EPA’s review of the mine plan has identified “potential disproportionately high and adverse impacts to tribal populations.
  2. Harm to threatened fish. The DEIS predicts the direct loss or injury of 100,000 fish and the net loss of 26% of critical habitat for Chinook Salmon and 28-70% of critical habitat for Bull Trout, even with mitigation.
  3. Water pollution in perpetuity. The DEIS predicts that the mine will generate highly polluted water that will require water treatment in perpetuity. The EPA determined that the DEIS contained “inadequate analysis to determine the effectiveness” of water treatment to mitigate water quality impacts. The EPA concludes that it has ongoing “significant concern regarding potential impacts to water quality and aquatic resources.”
  4. Mercury pollution. The DEIS estimates that the mine will generate 32 pounds of mercury air emissions per year, and at the end of mining, mercury pollution in the East Fork South Fork Salmon River will be significantly worse.
  5. Groundwater pollution. According to the EPA’s review, after the mine closes, there will be “long term contamination of groundwater of unknown extent.”
  6. Spread of existing mine pollution. The mine plan proposes to use the existing historical waste to build new waste facilities, spreading mine contamination across the site, with unknown effects.
  7. Major data and analyses gaps. The DEIS contains two full pages of incomplete or unavailable information that is necessary to understand the potential impacts to human health, fish and wildlife, water quality and our public lands.
  8. Inappropriate influence. The Forest Service gave Midas Gold approval to author the Biological Assessment that evaluates the impacts of its own mining operation on threatened species, conflicting with the public’s right to a fair and unbiased process.

Now Midas Gold, which just changed its name to Perpetua Resources, has submitted a new plan, with changes to nearly every facet of its proposed operation.  Yet, it wants the previous environmental review, which was already inadequate, to apply to the new plan.  Keep in mind that Midas Gold (Perpetua Resources) has no current mining operations and it is presently funded entirely by investor capital that has been raised only through the prospect of future mining.

Earthworks and our state and local conservation partners have called on the Forest Service to initiate a new environmental review of Stibnite. Research has demonstrated that the EIS process regularly underestimates the impacts of large-scale mining, particularly when it comes to the all-important issue of water. A rigorous, unbiased review is necessary to understand the full extent of the impacts of the proposed Stibnite Mine.