, Volume 125, Issue 1-3, pp 361-375

A Procedure for NEPA Assessment of Selenium Hazards Associated With Mining

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Abstract

This paper gives step-by-step instructions for assessing aquatic selenium hazards associated with mining. The procedure was developed to provide the U.S. Forest Service with a proactive capability for determining the risk of selenium pollution when it reviews mine permit applications in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The procedural framework is constructed in a decision-tree format in order to guide users through the various steps, provide a logical sequence for completing individual tasks, and identify key decision points. There are five major components designed to gather information on operational parameters of the proposed mine as well as key aspects of the physical, chemical, and biological environment surrounding it — geological assessment, mine operation assessment, hydrological assessment, biological assessment, and hazard assessment. Validation tests conducted at three mines where selenium pollution has occurred confirmed that the procedure will accurately predict ecological risks. In each case, it correctly identified and quantified selenium hazard, and indicated the steps needed to reduce this hazard to an acceptable level. By utilizing the procedure, NEPA workers can be confident in their ability to understand the risk of aquatic selenium pollution and take appropriate action. Although the procedure was developed for the Forest Service it should also be useful to other federal land management agencies that conduct NEPA assessments, as well as regulatory agencies responsible for issuing coal mining permits under the authority of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) and associated Section 401 water quality certification under the Clean Water Act. Mining companies will also benefit from the application of this procedure because priority selenium sources can be identified in relation to specific mine operating parameters. The procedure will reveal the point(s) at which there is a need to modify operating conditions to meet environmental quality goals. By recognizing concerns early in the NEPA process, it may be possible for a mining company to match operational parameters with environmental requirements, thereby increasing the likelihood that the permit application will be approved.