A lot has been made the last few weeks of the Pebble Limited Partnership, the group of foreign-based companies that want to dig the world’s largest open-pit mine in the salmon-rich headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, and its decision to conduct its own scientific review of the proposed project.
Concerns are obvious–how can such a review, conducted by a bought-and-paid-for contractor, be objective? Pebble maintains the EPA process, which resulted in a draft watershed assessment issued earlier this year, was rushed and premature. EPA spent over a year on the watershed assessment, which was requested by Alaskans. It conducted public input hearings all over Alaska prior to the release of its assessment, which, not surprisingly, contains some damning information on the proposed Pebble Mine and large-scale mining in Bristol Bay in general.
As Tim Bristol, the director TU’s Alaska program, noted, the paid science that will result from Pebble’s in-house report “is going to be a foil to whatever the EPA comes up with.”
EPA’s draft watershed assessment is objective, peer-reviewed and based on the best available science. It’s definitive–large-scale mining in the headwaters of Bristol Bay will have, under the best-case scenario, a significant impact on the ecology of the region and the fishery. EPA’s assessment assumes that, under perfect operating conditions, the mine will cut off access to nearly 90 miles of streams that are today used by salmon to spawn. Complete, or even partial failure, of the proposed mine’s tailings dam, which will be about as high as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, could be devastating to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and the local economy.
Keep in mind that this fishery supports about 14,000 jobs annually–a renewable economy that will continue to prosper so long as we take care of the habitat the salmon need to reproduce. Building a massive hard-rock mine at the top of the watershed that might provide jobs for as few as 25 years simply does not meet the sniff test. It trades an infinite resource for one that will eventually play out.
As we’ve said before, the real gold mine–Bristol Bay’s priceless salmon fishery–already exists. We don’t need another panel–and a contrived one, for that matter–to tell us that.