Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided to use the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay's salmon from the threat of a giant gold and copper mine.
We applaud the EPA's decision, which represents government acting as it should, to enforce U.S. laws designed to protect valuable national resources.
The agency initiated a rarely used Clean Water Act process designed to “identify appropriate options to protect” the Bristol Bay fishery from the future effects of the proposed mine.
Last January, the EPA concluded that – even without highly conceivable accidents – substantial amounts of heavy metals (mostly copper) will leach out of the stored tailings.
The agency concluded that those leaks may disrupt salmon migration, kill some fish (if not salmon), likely kill small river-bottom creatures upon which salmon and other fish depend, and otherwise threatening this unique, irreplaceable habitat.
As EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement, “Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries. This process is not something the agency does very often, but Bristol Bay is an extraordinary and unique resource.”
Bristol Bay's salmon resource and its commercial fishing industry are a national (and global) treasure.
Independent scientists reviewed the EPA's final impact statement, and agreed that it's not possible to site a huge complex of mines above the spawning streams of the world's greatest wild salmon fishery without serious risk.
We've been following the fight over the proposed Pebble Mine since 2005. For example, see “Alaska Mine's Eco Risks Hit in EPA Report”, “Pebble Mine Expose from PBS-TV's Frontline”, and related articles in the Mining & Seafood Sustainability section of our news archive.
EPA's decision to put Section 404c of the Clean Water Act into action in Bristol Bay is the first step in a process to protect Bristol Bay's $1.5 billion commercial fishing economy.
We'll keep you posted on new developments, but for now, the mine looks like it may be on it is last legs.
Shares of mine owner Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd, dropped 29 percent on Friday, and the stock has fallen more than 64 percent in the last 12 months.
Northern Dynasty asserts that the mine can be developed safely, and would employ about 2,500 people through the construction phase and about 1,000 throughout the mine's operating life.
Those are small numbers compared with the jobs provided by the commercial salmon fishery and recreational businesses, which, unlike the mine, could last indefinitely.
And the consequences of letting industry decide the safety of a project made themselves clear in Carolina, as reported in last week in The New York Times: “Ash Spill Shows How Watchdog Was Defanged”.