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This week’s devastating tailings dam failure at the Mount Polley copper mine in British Columbia, which released vast amounts of mine waste into streams, rivers and lakes, raised alarms with Alaska Native communities and conservation groups concerned about the proposed Pebble Mine. The groups are urging the EPA to finalize proposed mine waste restrictions in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed.
“We don’t want this to happen in Bristol Bay,” said Kim Williams, director of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of Alaska Native Tribes and corporations. “With all the similarities between Pebble and the Mount Polley copper mine, we’re urging the EPA to take immediate action to finalize mine waste restrictions in Bristol Bay,” she continued.
On Monday, a tailings dam failure caused over five million cubic meters of wastewater to spill from Imperial Metals' Mount Polley copper and gold mine, flowing into the headwaters of the Fraser River watershed, and causing officials to enact a number of water use and drinking water bans. The Mount Polley Mine in B.C. and the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska are both large, open pit, copper porphyry mines, with a modern tailings dam design, located at the headwaters of an important fishery.
“Our research shows that these tailings dam failures are far more common than the industry wants to admit,” said Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks northwest office.  “In the U.S. roughly a quarter of the currently operating copper porphyry mines have experienced partial or total tailings pond failures.” She continued, “That’s why the EPA’s plan to restrict mine waste in the Bristol Bay watershed is so critical to the future of our nation’s most valuable wild salmon fishery, ”
A 2012 peer-reviewed report by Earthworks, which reviewed 14 out of 16 currently operating copper porphyry mines representing 89% of U.S. copper production, found that full or partial tailings dam failures occurred at 28% of them.
The Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) has repeatedly claimed that mining and fish can coexist, and points to the Fraser River as a watershed as its example for this.
“Pebble’s claims that the Fraser River watershed is the ideal example of where mining and fish coexist are completely unfounded,” said Kim Williams.  “Our hearts go out to those in B.C., who live downstream from this devastating mine failure.”
The EPA has proposed mine waste restrictions in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, with public hearings on the proposed plan scheduled for August 12 -16 in Alaska.

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