Editorial: EPA pans Bristol Bay mining

By:  Seattle Times Editorial – Editorial Staff
Source: The Seattle Times

THREE years of study and review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put science on the side of opponents of a massive copper and gold mine planned for Alaska’s salmon-rich Bristol Bay.

EPA’s final watershed assessment concludes the mine is a direct threat to the health of the source of 46 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon.

The environmental and economic devastation at risk with the proposed Pebble Mine is on an epic scale.

The report helped move Alaska U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, a democrat, to announce this week his opposition to it as the wrong mine in the wrong place.

EPA states that up to 94 miles of streams would be destroyed. Wastewater issues and treatment failures threaten another 48 to 62 miles of streams.

Add in 5,300 acres of wetlands that would be damaged by the mining proposal, according to the EPA’s findings.

Economic trauma wrought by the Pebble Mine radiates out in the same concentric circles suffered by the environment.

The EPA report put a value of $674 million on the salmon fishing and processing spread across Washington, Oregon and California. That translates to 12,000 seasonal jobs and 6,000 full-time jobs. Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery also powers trade with Japan and China. All that is put at risk.

Washington U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, noted last week that nearly 1,000 Washingtonians hold commercial fishing permits in Bristol Bay. Recreational fishing adds another $75 million for Washington business, Cantwell said in a statement.

Large-scale mining in Bristol Bay was a bad idea from the start. In September, one of the partners in the plan, London-based Anglo American, pulled out, leaving Canada’s Northern Dynasty Minerals.

Though the EPA describes the assessment as a technical resource, and not a final decision, the warning lights are flashing.

Hard evidence on the environmental devastation and the economic losses, and the hardships for Alaska Native cultures, all work against a terrible idea.