A whopping 360 scientists from Canada, Poland, Australia, the contiguous United States and elsewhere in the world are pleading with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) en masse not to approve the Pebble Mine development in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
On February 3 they collectively signed a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy outlining the reasons they feel the plan for the massive gold and copper mine in the pristine region should not go forward.
The letter was sparked by the EPA’s final assessment of the project, which came out in mid-January and concluded that “large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures,” the EPA said in a January 15 statement.
"Over three years, EPA compiled the best, most current science on the Bristol Bay watershed to understand how large-scale mining could impact salmon and water in this unique area of unparalleled natural resources," said Dennis McLerran, regional administrator for EPA Region 10, in the statement. "Our report concludes that large-scale mining poses risks to salmon and the tribal communities that have depended on them for thousands of years. The assessment is a technical resource for governments, tribes and the public as we consider how to address the challenges of large-scale mining and ecological protection in the Bristol Bay watershed."
The signatories concurred with the EPA’s findings and entreated the agency not to greenlight the project.
“Based on the results of the assessment, we are very concerned about the prospect of large-scale mining in the unique and biologically rich watersheds of southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay,” the scientists wrote. “The preponderance of evidence presented in the Watershed Assessment indicates that large-scale hard rock mining in the Bristol Bay watershed threatens a world-class fishery and uniquely rich ecosystem, and we urge the Administration to act quickly to protect the area. Therefore, we urge EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to take the necessary next steps to protect Bristol Bay.”
The 360 scientists are not the first to come out against the proposed two-mile-wide open-pit mine, which would be smack in the middle of the world’s most fertile salmon spawning grounds. The attempts to quash the proposal are longstanding.
The letter’s signatories, describing themselves as specialists in ecological and natural-resource-related issues, outlined several dangers to the existing pristine habitat, indigenous culture and environment, and existing sustainable, economic uses of the region.
“Pebble could cause the direct loss of up to 24, 56, and 94 miles of streams respectively and alter stream flow up to an additional 33 miles,” they wrote in the first of several bullet points.
In addition, the scenarios posed for the mining activities “would result in the direct loss of up to 5,350 acres of wetlands and ponds,” the letter said. Acidity and metal concentrations would be in creased if mining were conducted at the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak drainages, the scientists said, and leaching copper from the mine’s activities would hit salmon habitat far beyond the mine itself. Moreover, the letter said, “Failure of a tailings storage facility dam that released only a partial volume of the stored tailings would result in catastrophic effects on fishery resources.”
One portion of the mine would dig 1,700 feet down to get at the deposits of gold, copper and other minerals that the two companies involved, Northern Dynasty Minerals of British Columbia and the London, England–based Anglo American, covet. In addition to the mine itself, the project calls for constructing a mill for crushing and separating the metals and creating tailings ponds that would dwarf the mines themselves, as National Geographic reported in 2012.
The mine would yield 80 billion pounds of copper and 110 million ounces of gold, and some allege that the companies involved have been paying to curry favor with state officials.
McLerran told attendees of the Alaska Forum on the Environment, which ran from February 3–7, 2014, that he would be making a decision soon, the Alaska Daily News reported.