Despite outspoken opposition from local residents, community leaders, businesses and environmental groups, foreign mining companies Anglo American and Rio Tinto are proceeding with plans to build a massive open-pit gold and copper mine in pristine Alaskan wilderness. The land in question is located just above Alaska’s Bristol Bay, a critical watershed that sustains fish and wildlife crucial not only to the area’s ecology, but to its economy as well.
Design plans for the proposed Pebble Mine indicate the complex would encompass 20 square miles of state land in the Bristol Bay watershed. Because of its sheer size and location at the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers, two of the eight major rivers that feed Bristol Bay, the Pebble mine poses a serious risk of polluting Bristol Bay.
Bristol Bay is one of the world’s few and most productive wild salmon strongholds, and supports a $500 million commercial and sport fishing industry, and provides 10,000 jobs for Alaska’s working families. Additionally, the salmon is key to the area’s food chain and ecosystem, supporting bears, whales, seals and eagles, as well as providing a mainstay for the Native communities who have called the area home for thousands of years.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental action group made up of nearly 1.5 million members, online activists, lawyers, scientists and other professionals, reports plans for the mine that are frightening in scale. The proposed plans include:
• A gaping pit wide enough to line up nine of the world’s longest cruise ships and deep enough to swallow the Empire State Building;
• The largest earthen dam in the world needed to hold back billions of tons of toxic waste;
• The dam and 10-square-mile containment pond are intended to hold between 2.5 billion and 10 billion tons of mine waste that Pebble would produce over its lifetime;
• The Pebble mine waste would require environmental treatment forever;
• Any release of mine waste into the surface or groundwater has the potential to harm the salmon runs;
• The mine would be sited on an earthquake-prone area near the Lake Clark fault, a 135-mile tectonic zone and 125 miles north of the site of the most powerful earthquake in North American history, which occurred in 1964;
• The destruction of miles of salmon streams and the likely poisoning of countless other streams and rivers; and
• The construction of a deep-water port in Cook Inlet, a direct threat to the last 312 beluga whales that make their home there.
The NRDC reports more than 80 percent of residents in the area are opposed to the project, including Native communities and commercial fishermen. In August 2010, the Anchorage Daily News reported the Bristol Bay Native Corp. (BBNC) sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) imploring the agency to stop the project using its authority under the Clean Water Act. The BBNC has 8,600 Eskimo, Aleut and Athabascan shareholders. Despite their objections, the plans for the mine are moving forward. If the mine is constructed, it spells almost certain destruction for the Bristol Bay.
All Americans should be appalled at this affront to one of our most important natural environments for the benefit of these multinational corporate giants. Why should we tolerate their lining their pockets at our expense? I encourage our readers to let their voices be heard. Tell EPA’s acting administrator Robert Perciasepe to exercise the agency’s authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay by stopping the Pebble Mine. There is an online petition at www.StopPebble.org. if you believe the Pebble Mine is a bad thing, fill out the petition and hit “send,” before it’s too late for Bristol Bay, and for Alaska, and for our future generations. The seriousness of this endeavor cannot be underestimated.
Sources: NRDC, StopPebble.org, SaveBristolBay.org, Anchorage Daily News
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