EPA Abandons Wetlands and Fisheries to Destruction in 2nd Largest U.S. Estuary
The Environmental Protection Agency last night backed away from its earlier finding that an 11,000 acre mine expansion by PCS Phosphate posed “unacceptable harm” to critical wetlands and fisheries in the nation’s second largest estuary, the Albemarle-Pamlico, according to environmental groups. After elevating the mining permit to the national level in a rare move, EPA could have vetoed the destruction of 1,200 acres of the most critical wetlands and nurseries while still allowing continued mining by the company for 29 years.
“EPA has inexplicably reversed course, embracing a devastating mine plan that it determined would cause unacceptable harm just two months ago,” said Derb Carter, director, Carolinas Office, the Southern Environmental Law Center. “EPA isn’t protecting the environment our children and grandchildren will inherit long after PCS Phosphate mining has left the area.”
After EPA’s elevation of the mining permit, the Corps rejected the minimum steps EPA determined necessary to avoid “unacceptable” impacts from the mine expansion, leaving EPA’s concerns largely unaddressed. In EPA's letter accepting the permit, it acknowledged the inevitable wetlands destruction EPA has now allowed, noting that the permit is “designed to provide for the early detection of unacceptable impacts.”
In a June 11th letter to EPA following the Corps permit decision, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council recommended EPA veto the permit in concurrence with multiple federal and state agencies. The Council found that the permitted mine expansion will result in “significant and unacceptable impacts” to essential fish habitats including coastal ecosystems and aquatic resources that depend on them.
Environmental groups urged EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to stand by her agency’s findings and implement the administration’s pledge in a letter to U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, “we need to identify opportunities to expand protection of wetlands and other aquatic resources that are especially vulnerable or critical to sustaining the health of [aquatic] systems.”
In a letter to the Corps, EPA stated it will not act to prevent the destruction of wetlands and fisheries.
PCS Phosphate’s permitted mine expansion will be the largest single destruction of wetlands permitted in North Carolina history. It jeopardizes the irreplaceable ecosystem of Albemarle-Pamlico Sound, the nation’s second largest estuary and one of the most productive American fisheries which generates thousands of jobs and over $1 billion annually.
In its objections to the permit, EPA requested that the Corps revise the permit to
- reduce wetland impacts by 29 percent (1,166 acres);
- prohibit mining that would affect the most sensitive fish nursery areas, prohibit mining of rare hardwood wetlands; and
- improve the proposed mitigation to compensate for remaining wetland and water quality impacts.
The Corps’s response to EPA reduces wetland impacts by only 1 percent (44 acres) and fails to address other EPA concerns and recommendations.
Concern over PCS Phosphate’s planned destruction of wetlands and primary nurseries near the Pamlico River remain unaddressed despite consistently being raised by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, U.S. EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council throughout the permit process.
Acting as its own agent of delay, the company sued North Carolina for years during the permitting process after being warned such action would delay the issuance of any permit. PCS Phosphate, a subsidiary of Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, is now permitted to mine 11,000 acres, including 4,000 acres of wetlands and more than four miles of tidal creeks and streams bordering the Pamlico River.
About Southern Environmental Law Center The Southern Environmental Law Center is the only regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of 40 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.
About Environmental Defense Fund A leading national nonprofit organization, Environmental Defense Fund represents more than 700,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense Fund has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. For more information, visit www.edf.org.
About North Carolina Sierra Club Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization with over 17,000 members in North Carolina.
About Pamlico-Tar River Foundation The Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, founded in 1981, is a grassroots environmental organization representing greater than 2000 members and a licensed member of Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc. Our mission is to enhance and protect the Pamlico-Tar River watershed through education, advocacy, and research.
About North Carolina Coastal Federation The North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF) is the state’s only non-profit organization focused exclusively on protecting and restoring the coast of North Carolina through education, advocacy and habitat restoration and preservation. www.nccoast.org