Last Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally proposed limitations that would block the massive, ill-conceived Pebble Mine project -- the controversial proposal to mine gold and copper at the headwaters of the pristine Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery in Alaska that faces overwhelming local opposition. (Eighty-five percent of commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay, 82 percent of Bristol Bay residents, and 62 percent of Alaskans oppose it.) This action by EPA is a critical step toward protecting Bristol Bay's salmon from the inevitable devastation that a large-scale mine would cause.
EPA formally invoked its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to "prohibit, restrict, deny or withdraw" an area at risk of "unacceptable adverse effects" on water, fisheries, wildlife, or recreation resources. Though EPA has clear legal authority to undertake this process, it does so rarely. As the agency explains:
EPA has used its Section 404(c) authority judiciously and sparingly, having completed only 13 Section 404(c) actions in the 42-year history of the CWA.
And this is a rare situation -- a uniquely ill-conceived mining project that unquestionably warrants EPA's attention. EPA should be applauded for responding to this reality, and to the repeated and urgent requests of the tribes and communities of Bristol Bay. The head of the watershed of the greatest salmon fishery on the planet is no place to gamble on one of the largest mining operations ever conceived. It is simply the wrong mine in the wrong place -- as Mitsubishi realized in 2011, as Anglo-American realized last September, and as Rio Tinto recognized in April.
Based on information provided by Northern Dynasty Minerals to investors and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, mining the Pebble deposit is likely to result in:
- A mine pit nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon.
- Mine waste that would fill a major football stadium up to 3,900 times.
- Massive mine tailings impoundments that would cover approximately 19 square miles and waste rock piles that would cover nearly nine square miles in an area with productive streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds important for salmon.
- A mining operation that would cover an area larger than Manhattan.
The agency's proposal is measured, solidly grounded in science, and directly responsive to the overwhelming local opposition to the project.
Now is the right time for this EPA action. The threat of repeated statements by foreign mining companies over the course of many years that a mine application is imminent has placed great stress on the people and economies of Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay residents and businesses have been held hostage by mining interests' control over the timing of public consideration of its mining plans. Final EPA action would free Bristol Bay from this looming menace.
It's time to say no to the Pebble Mine.