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February 28, 2020 – Today the Forest Service issued a preliminary approval for another expansion of Simplot’s Smoky Canyon phosphate mine in southeast Idaho, despite the mine’s ongoing selenium pollution. The mine, which began operations in 1984, was pulled into the federal CERCLA (Superfund) program in the mid 1990s to investigate selenium pollution at the mine. Decades later, discharges from the mine continue to release selenium into Sage Creek and Crow Creek, two streams that provide important habitat for Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. A water treatment plant installed in 2017 only treats half of the contaminated water emanating from the mine. Selenium concentrations in both creeks’ trout are far above the levels considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s disturbing to see another expansion approved while the mine continues to contaminate fish with harmful levels of selenium,” said Bonnie Gestring, northwest program director for Earthworks. “Simplot and the federal agencies keep promising that new technology will prevent further pollution, but they still haven’t fixed the existing pollution. Two decades of pollution is more than the public or neighboring landowners should have to endure.”
“Crow Creek is such a great trout stream, and it breaks my heart to see the ongoing pollution,” said Pete Riede, a private property owner below the mine and a member of the Crow Creek Conservation Alliance. “We want Simplot to be a responsible company and neighbor, and clean up its selenium pollution, and we want the Forest Service and BLM to make it happen.”
The Crow Creek Conservation Alliance, a group of private landowners downstream of the Smoky Canyon Mine, have been working with Earthworks and a fisheries biologist to measure selenium concentrations in the water and fish to document the on-going pollution.
The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a joint Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) today, which analyzed the impacts of the proposed expansion. The Forest Service also issued a draft Record of Decision approving the agency’s preferred alternative to Simplot’s proposed mine expansion. The BLM is expected to issue its final Record of Decision at a later date.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
- Map and graph of selenium concentrations in fish tissue
- Background information on selenium pollution at Smoky Canyon
- Photo of Yellowstone cutthroat trout
- Final Forest Service/BLM Environmental Impact Statement for the Simplot Mine Expansion
- Draft final Forest Service Record of Decision approving the Simplot Mine Expansion