A US Environmental Protection Agency draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed, which concludes that large-scale mining operations would harm wild salmon habitat, is continuing to get a cross-section of praise and criticism.
While the EPA says the 339-page document is focused on a hypothetical mining scenario using available public documents, its focus is clearly on evaluating what might happen if a large-scale mine, such as the Pebble mine in the exploration phase at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, is developed.
A brief excerpt from the report’s abstract says, “Based on this mine scenario, we conclude that, at a minimum, mining at this scale would cause the loss of spawning habitat for multiple species of anadromous and resident fish.”
The study was undertaken at the request of tribal groups, environmentalists and several entities engaged in the commercial salmon fishery, which produce nearly half of the world’s sockeye salmon. They want the EPA to invoke a section of the Clean Water Act to protect fishing habitat.
On the other side, the Pebble Partnership, owned by Northern Dynasty Minerals of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Anglo American plc, of London, has found allies in the state of Alaska and others, including a group called Truth About Pebble, who feel the mine should proceed to permitting. On May 15 the company announced plans to spend some $107 million of Anglo American’s money this year to prepare the project for permitting by year’s end.
Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively issued a statement expressing concern that the EPA “may use this rushed process as the basis for an unprecedented regulatory action against the Pebble Project… Until we complete our work and submit an application under NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) the EPA’s work as it relates to our project is based entirely on speculation,” he said.
The project has the support of a nonprofit citizens’ organization called Truth About Pebble, whose incorporators include Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan.
The eclectic group of opponents of the mine range from commercial and sport fishing groups nationwide to Alaska Native tribal groups and environmental organizations, including the National Parks Conservation Association.
“The science exists now to show that the proposed Pebble mine does not fit with a sustainable future for Bristol Bay, and should not be allowed to proceed,” said Jason Metrokin, president and chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Native Corp.
Congress is also weighing in.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, called the draft document an important step toward protecting wild Bristol Bay salmon and the thousands of Washington state jobs that rely on them.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, meanwhile issued a statement saying he remains opposed to any preemptive decision on the mine.
The draft document can be downloaded at www.epa.gov/bristolbay