Controversial Mine Puts Alaska Salmon in Peril
One of the world’s most productive salmon fisheries faces a renewed threat: A proposed mining operation, stalled since 2014, has been granted new life by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Near the headwaters of Bristol Bay, which, according to a 2014 EPA report, produces nearly half the world’s annual sockeye salmon catch and supports about 14,000 related full- and part-time jobs, is where Northern Dynasty, a Canadian company, has plans to develop the Pebble Mine to extract gold and copper.
Critics of what could become the world’s biggest gold and copper open-pit mine worry that toxic byproducts will get into the watershed (the ground holds tons of sulphur, which turns into acid when mixed with air and water), destroying one of the last great salmon runs left on the planet, and with it much of southwest Alaska’s wildlife, the thriving commercial and recreational fishing, and the tourism. The developers of Pebble Mine insist they can pull the gold and copper out safely, but fishermen, conservationists, biologists and most native tribes disagree, which is why they have fought this project for over a decade.
The previous administration’s EPA, after a three-year peer-reviewed study, invoked a provision of the Clean Water Act to protect the Bristol Bay watershed from mining, but Scott Pruitt, the EPA’S new chief, met with Northern Dynasty and soon after rescinded the regulatory roadblock, encouraging the company to proceed with its plans to develop the mine and submit permit applications, expected to happen in December. Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group said in a statement that it will fight the Pebble Mine in court, if necessary.