On April 30, 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its revised draft environmental assessment on the potential impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay watershed of Alaska. The proposal to build the Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon run, has been a hotly-contested issue for commercial fishermen and people living in Alaska, but has been largely overlooked by most of the country. As stated in the Executive Summary of the assessment:
“The Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, is home to 25 federally recognized tribal governments, and contains large mineral resources. The potential for large-scale mining activities in the watershed has raised concerns about the impact of mining on the sustainability of Bristol Bay’s world-class commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries and the future of Alaska Natives tribes in the watershed, who have maintained a salmon-based culture and subsistence-based way of life for at least 4,000 years.”
The EPA launched this assessment to determine the significance of Bristol Bay’s ecological resources and evaluate the impacts of large-scale mining on these resources.
Some of the more telling and disturbing findings of the assessment are that:
- Mines are complex systems requiring skilled engineering, design, and operation. The uncertainties facing mining and geotechnical engineers include unknown geologic features, uncertain values in geological properties, limited knowledge of mechanisms and processes, and human error in design and construction.
- Accidents are unplanned and inherently unpredictable.
- Consequences of the loss and degradation of habitat on fish populations could not be quantified because of the lack of quantitative information concerning salmonid populations in freshwater habitats.
The proposed mine has been strongly opposed by Bristol Bay fisherpersons, tribal governments, and local municipalities, despite the prospects for increased employment associated with the mine. It is reported by other commentators that mining interests are critical of the EPA’s actions as creating a preemptive veto of the required permit before the mine’s promotors have submitted a formal plan for operations. Whatever your view on the issue, the public comment period on the current draft assessment is short, and will end May 31, 2013. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity and make your voice heard.