The Long Controversial Pebble Mine Project Gets a Nod; Fishing Industry Faces Ruin
The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to undo a key decision that could eventually pave the way for a Canadian mining company to pollute rivers in the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska which supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.
The EPA published the notice of the proposed change that could benefit would-be miners of gold, copper and molybdenum as the annual Alaskan salmon run was taking place. More than 35 million sockeye salmon had been caught by Wednesday, far ahead of the 20-year average of 22.7 million, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The company behind the proposed Pebble mine is Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. of Vancouver. Tom Collier, the CEO of the subsidiary that would build the mine, was chief of staff at the Interior Department under Bill Clinton.
Trump’s EPA, under administrator Scott Pruitt, wants to drop an EPA proposal from 2014 that would restrict how that subsidiary, Pebble Limited Partnership, could use the south and north forks of the Koktuli River and the Upper Talarik Creek watershed as dumping grounds for dredged or fill material from the mine.
Former President Barack Obama’s EPA had used the Clean Water Act to block the mine, and Trump’s EPA is working to undo that.
“We have our own gold mine already,” said Robin Samuelsen of the tribal organization Nunamta Aulukestai. “It’s called the sockeye salmon fishery of Bristol Bay, and we are currently working hard right now to harvest the record number of salmon coming into our region. For the federal government to throw all of this away for the benefit of a foreign mining company is criminal.”
Sockeye salmon, also called red or blueback salmon, are among the smaller of the seven Pacific salmon species, but their taste is said to be the best. The fish are bright orange from the orange krill the fish eat in the ocean. Mature salmon return to the rivers where they were born to spawn before dying in annual salmon runs.
Pebble Limited Partnership has yet to apply for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and would also have to get state permits.
The EPA agreed to start the process to scrap the proposed restrictions as part of a May 11 settlement with Pebble Limited Partnership in a federal lawsuit.
Pruitt was also urged to drop the proposed restrictions by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chairman of the committee, wrote that the EPA’s action “was justified by a questionable scientific assessment that relied on predetermined conclusions developed by EPA officials.”
The EPA’s Office of Inspector General found “no evidence of bias” in how the EPA assessed the Bristol Bay watershed.
The Obama EPA said the mine will result in a “complete loss of fish habitat” in the region. The Bristol Bay salmon run is one of the last remaining great salmon runs in our nation. Salmon runs in other states have been depleted and endangered by logging, dam building and urbanization.
Featured Photo: Briston Bay sockeye salmon. Photo by Todd Radenbaugh, via Flickr.