A gold and copper mine proposed for the headwaters of Bristol Bay would dig up roughly 60 million dump trucks worth of material, construct massive storage structures for toxic waste, build a power plant large enough to power a small city, and bulldoze an 86-mile transportation corridor through pristine ecosystems—the federal agency assigned to evaluate the mining company’s plan has finally recognized the risk to the watershed but is still delaying a final decision on whether to allow the project to move forward.
Here’s why the proposed mine doesn’t stand up to a fact check.
The risk is real
Nature and people can’t live without fresh water, and Bristol Bay is the lifeblood that sustains every species calling the region home.
There are more than 190 bird species in Bristol Bay, and all of them depend on a healthy water supply. So do roughly 400 rare freshwater harbor seals that live permanently in Iliamna Lake, where developers want to ship ore concentrate and other materials via a barge system. Brown bears migrate around the region in search of food and depend heavily on salmon. In fact, the salmon that thrive in Bristol Bay’s clean, cold tributaries are critical to the region’s remarkable abundance as mature fish distribute marine nutrients from the Bering Sea and North Pacific throughout the Bristol Bay watershed. This summer, more than 56 million salmon returned to their natal streams to complete their epic life cycles.
The communities of Bristol Bay need a healthy, freshwater-filled environment to thrive, too. Brown bear viewing supports a vibrant tourism industry worth tens of millions every year and salmon fishing supports an industry worth at least one $1 billion every year. Native communities rely on the harvest of salmon and other wild species for most of the protein consumed each year.
The environmental, economic, and cultural risks of this massive open-pit mine located at the headwaters of two of the planet’s most important salmon producing rivers are well documented. And an abundance of care is required to protect Bristol Bay’s irreplaceable resources.
Speed over science
During a comment period on a draft environmental impact statement prepared by the Army Corps, the EPA’s own scientists warned “critical” details about the project are missing and that the overall environmental impact of approving Pebble Mine has not been fully considered. Those missing details mean any of the project’s plans to mitigate potential risks and stave off ecological disaster are also not up to the task.
Alannah Hurley, Executive Director, United Tribes of Bristol Bay, argued to lawmakers during a hearing on Capitol Hill that “studies remain undone, data gaps remain unfilled and the draft (environmental impact statement) has been universally condemned by the scientific community, by other federal agencies, and by our people for its lack of thorough analysis of this project and its impact on the people of Bristol Bay."
The Army Corps' recent action to delay the final decision on Pebble Mine over concerns of "significant degradation" was recognized by both of Alaska's U.S. Senators, who agree with the decision. While acknowledging the devastation that the mine threatens is an important step, full veto of the project is still essential to stopping Pebble Mine.
Congress can act
Congress has an opportunity to protect this crucial habitat.
We cannot let the Pebble Mine happen. This has been a decade-long battle and in the last five years alone, more than half a million Americans have joined WWF in urging the US government to stop the Pebble Mine from moving forward. We cannot stop our fight to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska.
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