Written by Frances Beinecke, President, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)
Every year, tens of millions of salmon return to the pristine shores of Alaska’s Bristol Bay. They linger in the bay’s cool, shallow waters before charging up nearby streams to spawn and create another generation of wild salmon. Their thrashing silver and red presence draws an abundance of life. Bears, wolves, seals and whales thrive on the salmon, but so do people. Bristol Bay’s wild salmon support a $480 million annual commercial fishery that employs 14,000 full and part-time workers. The salmon also sustain Native communities that have relied on subsistence fishing and hunting for thousands of years.
But now this wild place and its great salmon nursery are under threat from the proposed Pebble Mine, a giant gold and copper mine that would be carved out of the spectacular untamed wilderness above Bristol Bay.
That’s why NRDC is mobilizing nationwide pressure on President Obama to counter the mining industry and direct the EPA to use its authority to stop the Pebble Mine. At the same time, we’ve launched a major media and activism campaign—spearheaded by actor, environmental activist and NRDC Trustee Robert Redford—to block this disastrous project once and for all.
The global mining giants behind this destructive operation are planning to alter the landscape on a colossal scale. The Pebble Mine would produce an estimated 10 billion tons of contaminated waste—3,000 pounds for every man, woman and child on Earth. Immense earthen dams, some taller than the Three Gorges Dam in China, would be constructed to hold back that waste forever. A giant pit two miles wide by 2,000 feet deep and an underground mine a mile deep would be gouged from the earth. It’s no wonder the Pebble Mine is opposed by nearly 80 percent of Bristol Bay residents, 81% of the Native shareholders in the Bristol Bay Native Corporation and 85% of commercial fishermen.
What’s more, a long-awaited study by the EPA found that large-scale mining like the Pebble Mine would pose enormous, irreversible harm to Bristol Bay watershed and the people and wildlife that depend on its resources.
The EPA has been asked by the people of the region to protect Bristol Bay, and the agency has the authority under the Clean Water Act to do just that—by stopping the Pebble Mine.
President Obama can make that happen in one bold stroke. So now is the time for the Obama Administration to act. Every factor involved—the location of the mine, the mining industry’s poor environmental record, the value of the fishery that would be harmed, and the people and wildlife in the region—suggests the risks are too high.
Once a landscape is industrialized, its wild character is lost for good. You can’t recreate untouched tundra, mountain meadows, crystal clear streams, and animals that have never encountered toxic waste. We don’t have many of these wild places left. We should preserve the ones we do.