Our Joint Responsibility

The Threat to Bristol Bay

This is taken from the third leader of the New York Times yesterday (June 5, 2012):

The possibility that a giant gold-and-copper mine might someday be built near the headwaters that feed Bristol Bay in Alaska, one of the richest salmon fisheries in the world, is cause for alarm. A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency reinforces those fears.

The report, issued on May 18, is a draft assessment of the “potential impacts” that large-scale mining could have on the intricate network of lakes, spawning streams and wetlands that make up the Bristol Bay ecosystem, the heart of a $2.2 billion regional fishing industry.

The project furthest along in the planning stage is the Pebble Mine, proposed by a Canadian-British consortium. The proposal has inspired fierce opposition from environmentalists and commercial and native Alaskan fishing interests. The E.P.A.’s report is the first step in a long process that will include public input, a peer-reviewed study, a more detailed plan from the company itself and, at some point down the line, an agency decision on whether to allow the project to proceed. But the agency’s preliminary findings are deeply worrisome. A big operation like Pebble, it says, would destroy 54 miles to 87.9 miles of critical streams and up to 6.7 square miles of wetlands.

Beyond that is the threat of catastrophic failure of the huge man-made reservoirs known as “tailing ponds” where mining companies typically store toxic acids, metals and other mining wastes. If that happens, spawning streams would be widely polluted and future salmon harvests sharply diminished.

The consortium, the mine’s main investor, says it can extract minerals safely and that the project could provide 1,000 permanent jobs. Its proposal deserves careful review.

But just about every factor involved — the location of the mine, the mining industry’s poor environmental record, the value of the fishery that could be harmed — suggests the risks are too high.”

 

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