Several readers wrote to alert us to a story in the Los Angeles Times, concerning a public EPA hearing about the proposed, enormous gold-and-copper mine near Bristol Bay, Alaska (found here).
The huge Pebble Mine complex would sit in the midst of a watershed whose rivers host the world's largest sockeye salmon runs.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration declared the Bristol Bay region off-limits for offshore oil and gas development, with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar calling the area “…simply too special to drill.”
The Bristol Bay sockeye salmon runs support a fishery worth $440 million a year, indefinitely, with most of that money staying in Alaska... which will not be true of the mine's profits.
The LA Times story included this quote from former state Senate President Rick Halford, a Republican from the Bristol Bay region:
“The [proposed mine] location could not possibly be worse on the face of the earth. This is a place of incredible value. It's going to be probably the biggest environmental resource fight of our lifetime” (LAT 2010).
Industry record renders bland assurances non-credible
The large corporation that plans the mine has assured the public that they will have safeguards in place to make sure the surrounding areas are not harmed by mining operations.
Such assurances ring hollow in light of the mining industry's track record, and they will be meaningless if sockeye runs are damaged... an all-too-probable outcome will diminish or destroy an ancient way of life, and eliminate thousands of salmon-related jobs that don't end when a mine is emptied out.
Most gold, copper, and metal mines in North America have polluted ground water, streams, and rivers… including more recent mines, whose “advanced methods” promised to prevent water pollution.
And very slight changes in the levels of copper and other metals in salmon rivers make it difficult or impossible for wild salmon to find their spawning grounds… which can devastate or eliminate a river's particular salmon run.
In other words, this is not some abstract fear ginned up by stereotypical tree-huggers, but a sensible struggle to protect the world's biggest remaining wild salmon run from a very real threat.
Hearings and panels: Designed to deflect opposition?
The Alaska Legislature plans a scientific review of the project, and science panels funded by the Pebble Mine's lease holders will begin a series of public meetings in December.
But at a meeting with the EPA last week, many locals said they feared the meetings were mere window-dressing, designed ease approval for the mine.
Frankly, we share their fear, given that the Pebble Mine complex is projected to extract $300 billion worth of gold, copper, and other minerals over time.
Salmon runs seen as natural power cords
Bristol Bay's wild salmon runs directly provide thousands of fishing, recreation, and tourism jobs... and what many regional biologists consider an irreplaceable “power cord.”
When salmon die upstream after spawning, they sustain the bears, bugs, and birds that consume them, which deposit the fishes' nourishing, fertilizing nutrients far inland.
Chemical tests detect salmon-derived nitrogen in animals and trees surprisingly deep into Alaska's coastal forests and tundra, and prove that the biological fuel wild salmon runs provide help enable the region's remarkably rich ecosystems.
Reader's letter elicits Randy Hartnell's response
We received the following query from reader Bill H., and thought you might want to see it and the response from Vital Choice founder Randy Hartnell, himself a former Bristol Bay fisherman.
Dear Randy,The LA Times had an extensive article regarding the development of the largest open pit mine in North America, above Bristol Bay.If this takes place how will this affect the purity of your fish?What is the inside scoop on this development? Thank you.Sincerely,Bill H.
Thanks very much for contacting me and for your concern about this vitally important issue.
We've long been aware of the Pebble Mine initiative and written about it extensively in our newsletter. (If you're not yet subscribed I highly recommend it!)
Click here to read my reply to a similar enquiry we received after The NY Times ran an earlier story on the Pebble Mine ... which seems even more meaningful in light of what's transpired in the Gulf of Mexico recently.
You can find related Pebble Mine reports by using the search term “Pebble” on our Vital Choices news archive page.
Please let me know if you have any additional questions.
President and Founder
- Murphy K. Los Angeles Times. August 4, 2010. Accessed at http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-pebble-mine-20100804,0,563456.story