Experts Support EPA Finding of Potential Danger with Pebble Mine

Bear in Bristol Bay waters | Bob Waldrop

Bear in Bristol Bay waters | Bob Waldrop

Protecting the country’s most special natural places is often a very challenging prospect, especially when those places overlap with resources that society deems particularly valuable. This is the case in Bristol Bay, which was highlighted on American Rivers’ 2011 list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®. In a project known as the “Pebble Mine”, a company would like to build a copper and gold mine in an area that is home to the largest population of sockeye salmon in the world.

Our tribal partners have engaged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in an environmental review of the project to determine the potential impact to the salmon fishery, associated rivers, and overall environment in the area.  It is a contentious undertaking to be sure.

Recently, a peer review panel issued their analysis of the EPA’s draft assessment of environmental impacts of this project. The peer review panel largely agreed with EPA’s assessment that there is a risk of catastrophic pollution if one of the mine’s tailing ponds were to have a failure. Under current law, the mining company would be responsible for maintaining containment structures for mining waste in perpetuity. The problem is that perpetuity is forever… and mine opponents (which apparently include more than 80% of Bristol Bay residents) live in the real world. The associated risk is not a chance that they are willing to take when their livelihoods and such a valuable natural landscape and fishery are involved.

In addition to the peer review, thousands of Alaskans submitted written or oral comments on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and the vast majority were supportive of the EPA and the assessment. In fact, local residents passed a ballot initiative in 2011 that would forbid the granting of permits for any big mine that would have a “significant adverse impact” on salmon streams. Clearly the local public is not in favor of taking a chance on the Pebble Mine.

If you want to read more about the potential impacts of this project, the Wild Salmon Center and Trout Unlimited have produced a report.