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The Time to Toss Pebble is Now. Really.

Here in Alaska, the proposed Pebble Mine project is not a partisan issue. It’s an issue of fish vs. cyanide, Alaskans vs. multinational corporations, Native culture vs. the bottom line, sustainable jobs vs. instant gratification, and food security vs. greed. It’s a battle between holding on to the best of our state, and the last great wild salmon run in the world, and letting it all slip away to line the pockets of the already wealthy multinational mining conglomerates. We have a lot at stake.

And right now, we can actually help to influence how this all turns out.

What used to be the biggest pending environmental disaster no one ever heard about, is finally getting some national attention. Recently the project has been featured on Dan Rather’s weekly news show, Dan Rather Reports, The New York Times food section, and The Atlantic. They have all reported on the bay, the mine, the salmon, and the intricate and mysterious hydrology of this unique, pristine watershed.

Anglo American (whose track record is less than stellar) wants to put one of the world’s largest open pit gold and copper mines at the headwaters of the largest remaining wild salmon fishery on earth – a fishery that feeds the nation, employs more than 14,000 people, and has sustained human beings in the Bristol Bay area for thousands of years. If you’re anyone except a gigantic mining conglomerate, it’s a no-brainer. But the mineral wealth at the proposed site is vast, and The Pebble Partnership will do whatever it takes to get it.

Cyanide and pools of other toxic mining waste will have to be held back from leaching into the rivers that feed Bristol Bay by a series of earthen dams 700 feet tall – that’s 100 feet taller than the Space Needle. And they would sit smack atop the most seismically active region on the planet.


The area of the proposed Pebble Mine. Earthen dams would have to maintain their integrity in perpetuity, with this kind of seismic activity.

The mine has not been permitted yet. The “permitting process” in Alaska has become little more than lip service to the people. The project always goes forward. And any politician that tells you “it’s only fair to let the permitting process continue,” knows this.

But supporters of the fishery have an ace in the hole. It’s called provision 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. What it says in a nutshell is that the federal government has the legal authority to stop a project in its tracks if it threatens something so remarkable, so valuable to the nation and its people that no risk is acceptable – like, for instance, the world’s largest wild salmon fishery. Provision 404(c) says we shouldn’t even be having the conversation. It’s what most Alaskans think.

Native Alaskan Bobby Andrew checks salmon he is smoking at his home in Dillingham, Alaska, on Bristol Bay. Woods opposes the proposed Pebble Mine. (Photo by Stuart Isett)

But before this can happen, and in order for the current administration to have justification to use provision 404(c), there has to be a very detailed study by the EPA of the Bristol Bay watershed. They just finished it.

What the EPA found is that even if everything went completely according to plan, and the mine did exactly what it was supposed to do, with zero error, zero unintended accidents, zero unforeseen consequences, even if those colossal earthen dams held – the fishery is still at grave risk. They determined that even normal contamination from mining chemicals could degrade rivers, streams, and wipe out vital salmon habitat for decades. They released their findings in May.

Since that time, the EPA has held hearings, and taken public comment in communities across the Bristol Bay area, and in Anchorage and Washington, where a thousand Bristol Bay commercial fishing permit holders reside. Thousands attended these meetings. More than 90% of those giving testimony, including those who will be affected most, supported the EPA’s assessment of the watershed. It’s not even close.

The public has been given 60 days to comment on the study. But not everyone likes the idea of that timeline. The Pebble Partnership requested that the comment period be extended six months – to a date that happens to fall after the Presidential election in November. And there are some Alaska politicians who agree with this delay, namely Senator Lisa Murkowski (who never met a corporation she didn’t like), Congressman Don Young, and Governor Sean Parnell – all Republicans.

“The EPA’s refusal to provide additional time for the public to comment on the draft watershed assessment for Bristol Bay demonstrates, once again, that the agency does not understand Alaska,” Murkowski said. “There is no deadline – other than the one arbitrarily imposed by the EPA – that requires the agency to act now.”

You see, according to Lisa Murkowski, we’re a little slow up here in Alaska. It’s summertime, and 60 days just isn’t long enough for us to figure out what to say and click send. Or, she’s banking on an administration, and an EPA head that is more likely to side with Pebble, and less likely to side with everyone else.

Even though Democratic Senator Mark Begich is one of those “let the permitting process go forward” politicians, even he couldn’t support the extension with a straight face. “Believe me, Alaskans have never had a problem giving their opinions and meeting a deadline,” Begich said in a phone interview with the Bristol Bay Times. Also in support for keeping the original timeline, and not letting it run through a Presidential election cycle are the region’s State House Rep. Bryce Edgmon, and Jason Metrokin, President and CEO of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation.

The EPA has, in fact, recently declined to grant the comment extension that the multinationals and their politicians have asked for, which pleases opponents of the mine.

The comment period will end as scheduled next week on Monday, July 23. People have until then to speak up for the fishermen, the Native Alaskans of the Bristol Bay region, the environment, sustainable jobs, and wild salmon.

Commercial fishermen in Bristol Bay (photo by Nick Hall)

Encouraging the EPA to pull the plug on Pebble is the most effective way of stopping the project. Proponents of the mine would have you believe this is an unprecedented case of federal overreach and interference in a local project. In reality, provision 404(c) has already been used 13 times since its inception.

As a matter of fact, the impressive list of those who asked the EPA to get involved are:

9 Bristol Bay Tribes, The Bristol Bay Native Corporation (a multi-billion dollar developer and the largest land-owner in the Bristol Bay region representing 8,700 native shareholders), Bristol Bay Native Association (a non-profit corporation and tribal consortium serving the 31 federally recognized tribes in the Bristol Bay region), Commercial fishing interests represented by Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association and Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, The National Council of Churches, 355 Sportfishing and hunting organizations from Alaska to Washington DC and over 200 chefs and restaurant owners.

Hall Herring, from  Field & Stream says, “If you are a Field & Stream reader, you know what is at stake here, north of Bristol Bay, in the heart of the burgeoning wilds, in the headwaters of our souls…Now is the time for those of us who know what is there, and for those of us who would one day like to see it as it is, in the perfection of its creation, to be heard.”

This is a critical juncture, and our best opportunity to save Bristol Bay. Submit your comments in support of the EPA’s draft watershed assessment HERE.

Photo of the land around the proposed Pebble Mine site, by Robert Glenn Ketchum.



10 Responses to “The Time to Toss Pebble is Now. Really.”
  1. milkacow says:

    Why doesn’t muddy do a expose on Murkowski and Sealaska exposing the 5 billion ear mark that is S 730 which may pass out of the Energy Committee on the 31st thanks in no small part to the wildlife groups which Pew Charitable Trust controls, pays for, and has had negotiating with Murkowski in order to sell out a part of Alaska to gain 3.5 million acres of wilderness across the country. That is the dirty little secret of S 730 and Pew.

  2. Cowl ski says:

    S 730, murcowski’s 5 billion earmark for. Sealaska Corp, gets scant attention from the press when the House version got ramrodded through on the omnibus bill skew in June when we were logging and commercial fishing.

    The national press to its shame refused to examine how Pew is paying the bills of Udubon and Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership who are the main collaborators with Murky.

    Now on the 31st, the Senate Energy Committee may well consider marking it up…if Murk can give Bingaman enough Dem pork.

    None of these simey deals seem to interest the press before the fact.

  3. E of Anc P says:

    Yesterday, the link took us to an area we could get address for Lisa Jackson, and others we should sent our comments, too.

    Now it doesn’t give that it just goes to an alert page. We need them to e-mail our letter to. Any body have suggestions?

  4. zyxomma says:

    Every environmental organization in the US is trying to protect Bristol Bay. No Pebble Mine! Not now, not ever. Health and peace.

  5. beth. says:

    ****AKM — is there any way you can make the link [for action] go *directly* to the TU page where one can take action? Right now, the link goes to: which is the TU page: “Help TU Protect Bristol Bay, Alaska — Save Bristol Bay”

    Basically, it’s just a short bit telling why Pebble needs to be stopped. (And, I might add, it isn’t nearly as persuasive as your article above…sorry, TU gang.) I had to click on three different “Take Action” buttons/links from that link, to get to the one I needed: — the TU page: “Take Action – Save Bristol Bay”. That’s the page one has to go to to get the TU comment form (may be personalized) to [automatically] send to the powers that be.

    I’m a’feared people will not be as OCD as I, and even though highly motivated by your excellent article, will just quit after the initial, second, or third click — just give up on their good intent to take action.

    So, could you make a direct link to the TU comment page? Please? beth.****

  6. beth. says:

    Weren’t there some major jewelers/precious metal workers who declared a year-or-so back, that they’d never, in any case, use any metal from Pebble Mine? That because of the proposed mine’s location (Bristol Bay) and all of the accidents just waiting to happen should the mine(s) be developed, they’d not be using –ever– any of that gold or copper.

    I seem to recall that there were some really big-shot, well-known jewelry types who declared that, in essence, any precious metals from from Pebble would be as ”welcome’ to/in their business (and to their customers) as ‘blood diamonds’ are — their firm(s) would flat out *not* buy any Pebble Mine gold and/or copper.

    Am I remembering correctly? And if so, I think that information should also be (re)shared with folks to reinforce/bolster in them the universal disgust at the notion of even thinking about going ahead with the adzi9 plan of mining there. beth.

  7. juneaudream says:

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  8. Everyone please share this far and wide. This is one thing that we all should be able to get behind whether Democrat or Republican.