The effort to save Bristol Bay from the threat of the proposed Pebble Mine has certainly made some huge progress over the past year. However, many anglers might be surprised to learn that the fight is not over.
So, today we present you with a write up from our buddy Scott Hed, Director of the Sportman’s Alliance for Alaska, on the current status of the fight to protect Bristol Bay and how you can help.
All’s Quiet on the Pebble Front.. But Not Really.
It sure seems like a long time since there’s been any news on the battle to protect Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine. In fact, many folks may be under the impression that the battle is over – Pebble has been defeated – we have won the biggest freshwater fisheries conservation victory of our lifetimes.
I’m here to tell you that’s unfortunately not the case. The last real significant events in this epic campaign took place in the second half of 2014. Last July, after several years of scientific study and independent peer review, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exercised its authority under the Clean Water Act and released a set of proposed restrictions on the disposal of “dredge and fill material” (aka “mine waste”) in the watersheds of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers of southwest Alaska’s famed Bristol Bay region. Basically, the agency came to the conclusion that anglers (and hunters, commercial fishermen, Alaska Native subsistence users, and more) knew all along – construction of North America’s largest open-pit copper/gold/molybdenum mine would cause some serious damage to the waters that support the most productive wild salmon fishery left on planet Earth. The agency didn’t veto Pebble – as much as that’s what Pebble would like to have you think. The agency provided some advance guidance that a developer ought to welcome knowing before it gets too far along in the process. The EPA said if anyone wishes to build a large mine in this area, it must be done without exceeding certain limits relative to miles of stream lost, acres of wetlands/lakes/ponds lost, and alterations in stream flow. It’s all common-sense stuff that would ensure Bristol Bay’s rich fishery resources are protected. Nothing EPA proposed stops Pebble from applying for permits tomorrow if they chose to do so.
Predictably, Pebble didn’t exactly like EPA’s proposals, and has been doing everything in its power to delay EPA’s work under the Clean Water Act. Since all of the major investors have fled the project (Mitsubishi, Anglo American, and Rio Tinto all said “no thanks, we’re out” – some taking massive losses to just walk away), Pebble has been unable to find another major partner. So, in an effort to keep at least some of the lights on, they had to seek a cash infusion from whatever sources they could find…and they got several million dollars from a hedge fund in the Cayman Islands. I don’t want to exactly use the word “desperate,” but I’m hard pressed to find something more suitable. What’s Pebble spending this money on? Well, lawsuits and lobbyists, of course! Having completely struck out on trying to buy public sentiment in Bristol Bay and more broadly Alaska, they are down to suing the EPA and trying to get certain members of Congress to change the Clean Water Act itself. Hey, if you’re losing (getting routed, actually) maybe your best shot is to try to halt the game or change the rules. Pebble’s entire game plan right now is to drag this out and hope that the next presidential administration doesn’t allow the EPA to finish its work and finalize protective measures for Bristol Bay.
But, don’t fear – all is not lost. The work done by the incredibly broad coalition fighting for Bristol Bay has brought us to the doorstep of a historic fisheries victory. All the No Pebble Mine stickers you’ve pasted on your rigs, all the Red Gold screenings you attended, all the times you answered the calls to “Tell EPA to protect Bristol Bay!” have mattered. Never before has a group of such diverse interests fought so hard for so long for something that is so completely obviously right! Right now, the most meaningful thing you can do is to tell your Senators to allow EPA to finish its work. Thanks for your support!