Agency report is a blow to mining interests who want to set up world’s largest open-pit copper and gold mine in the region
Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency released its final study of the impacts of large-scale mining, including the proposed Pebble Mine, on Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The science is clear. Mining the Pebble deposit will have severe and lasting consequences for the world’s largest wild salmon fishery.
“Our report concludes that large-scale mining poses risks to salmon and the tribal communities that have depended on them for thousands of years,” EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said in a statement. “The assessment is a technical resource for governments, tribes and the public as we consider how to address the challenges of large-scale mining and ecological protection in the Bristol Bay watershed”.
Here are the quick and dirty numbers. The study finds that even under routine operation (no accidents or failures), the Pebble Mine would destroy up to 94 miles of salmon streams and over 5,000 acres of wetlands, lakes, and ponds. And, reduced flows would harm an estimated 33 miles of streams.
There’s a lot at stake.
The EPA study confirms that the Bristol Bay is an ecosystem of global significance, and an economic powerhouse. Millions upon millions of wild salmon return to the rivers and streams that feed Alaska’s Bristol Bay, like no place else on earth. Bristol Bay supplies nearly 50 percent of the world’s commercial sockeye, generates $480 million in annual revenue and supports 14,000 jobs a year.
The study comes in response to petitions from Alaska Native Tribes and commercial fishermen, who asked the EPA in 2010 to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to restrict the disposal of mine waste in the waters that feed Bristol Bay.
Mine developer Pebble Ltd. Partnership wants to set up a massive open-pit mine project and extract an estimated 80.6 billion pounds of copper and 107.4 million ounces of gold from the Pebble deposit. The EPA report, however, is not meant to be about a single project.
There is an unusual coalition of interest groups — including jewelers, churches, supermarkets, restaurants, chefs, conservation groups, and sportsmen — who support this locally-requested, science-based approach to regulating mine waste disposal. And they are calling on the Obama Administration to take action.
“It’s time for the EPA to take immediate steps to protect the fishery, the Alaska Native communities who rely on it as their primary source of food, and the 14,000 jobs that depend on it,” says Luki Akelkok, chariman of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of 10 Bristol Bay Native Tribes and Native Village Corporations.
Now that the EPA’s final study is complete, the fate of the nation’s greatest salmon fishery, and all the jobs that depend on it, rests with the agency. All eyes are on Gina McCarthy and the White House to see if they follow the science and broad public support.