Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment
Stirs More Commentary

Alaska Senator Mark Begich has come out in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Bristol Bay watershed assessment in its final form, saying “Pebble is not worth the risk.”

“Bristol Bay produces half the world’s red salmon and supports thousands of fishing jobs and way of life for thousands of Alaskans,” Begich said Jan. 20. “Thousands of Alaskans have weighed in on this issue and I have listened to their concerns. Pebble is not worth the risk.

“I agree with other pro-development Alaska leaders such as Senator Ted Stevens and former governors Jay Hammond and Tony Knowles, that Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place for Alaska,” he said.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, which has invested millions of dollars in mine studies, public relations and more, issued a statement expressing its disappointment in Begich’s stand, and again questioned whether the assessment is sound science.

Senator Lisa Murkowski meanwhile, maintains that the state, rather than the federal government, should decide whether the mine, which would be on state land, could be developed and operating without harm to salmon habitat. Murkowski’s position is that there is an existing federal permitting process that should be allowed to occur, and that if the EPA has concerns about a mine proposal there is an appropriate opportunity for the agency to weigh in during the permitting review process. The senator has not taken a position on the mine proposal itself, but has called on the Pebble Partnership to submit its plans for the mine so that Alaskans can judge for themselves the feasibility of the proposal.

The Bristol Bay watershed is home to the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon run.

The assessment, which was welcomed by numerous environmental, fisheries and business entities, concluded that a large scale mine in the Bristol Bay region would pose significant likelihood of adverse impact to salmon habitat. The report, online at, does not mention the Pebble mine specifically, nor does it recommend policy or regulatory decisions.

Dave Harsila, president of the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association, said his organization is pleased with the EPA’s work on the watershed assessment and urged the EPA to invoke its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect salmon resources in the Bristol Bay watershed from adverse impact from all potential mines at metallic sulfide deposits.

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