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July 21, 2014
EPA Limits on Alaskan Pebble Mine Likely to Prevent Construction
    by Robert Kropp

The Agency's proposal states that if constructed the mine would lead to unprecedented losses in streams and wetlands, and cause streamflow alterations, threatening one of the world's largest salmon fisheries.

In 2010, after a consortium of mining companies proposed the construction of a massive copper and gold mine at the headwaters of the pristine Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska, a group of Alaskan native tribes and commercial fishermen petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect the local watershed. The region is home to one of the largest wild salmon fisheries in the world.

Sustainable investment organizations joined the effort to protect Bristol Bay as well. In 2011, nearly 30 investor organizations representing over $170 billion in assets petitioned EPA to begin a review process, highlighting the risks of ecosystem degradation to investors. That effort was led by Calvert Investments and Trillium Asset Management.

In 2012, an Investor Advisory published by Earthwo rks warned, “The infrastructure necessary to develop the Pebble project is unprecedented.” The developers would need to construct a 378 MW power plant, 200 miles of power transmission lines, a deepwater port, a 100-mile road, and four pipelines, the Advisory stated.

Last week, EPA released its proposal addressing the proposed construction of the Pebble deposit at Bristol Bay. While the Agency did not specifically reject any development at the site, it did propose significant limitations on an operation that if constructed according plans would result in “a mining operation that would cover an area larger than Manhattan.”

In addition to the major infrastructure development outlined by in the 2012 Advisory from Earthworks, EPA made the following determinations regarding the proposed mine's impacts:
the mine would require excavation of the largest open pit ever constructed in North America and would cover nearly seven square miles at a maximum depth of over 3/4 of a mile;
mine waste, including mine tailings and waste rock, would fill almost 4,000 professional football stadiums; and
mine tailings impoundments would cover approximately 19 square miles, and waste rock piles would cover nearly nine square miles in an area with productive streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds important for salmon.

EPA has proposed to restrict all discharge of dredged or fill material related to mining the Pebble deposit that would result in loss of streams; loss of wetlands, lakes, and ponds; and streamflow alterations greater than 20% of daily flow.

“Bristol Bay is an extraordinary ecosystem that supports an ancient fishing culture and economic powerhouse,” said Dennis McLerran, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10. “The science is clear that mining the Pebble deposit would cause irreversible damage to one of the world’s last intact salmon ecosystems. Bristol Bay’s exceptional fisheries deserve exceptional protection.”

“We asked the EPA to step in to protect our fishery from the Pebble Mine because the State of Alaska wasn’t listening to us,” said Kim Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of ten Bristol Bay Native Tribes and Native Village Corporations. “The future of our people and 14,000 jobs are at risk. We’re glad the EPA is doing its job.”

“Our nation’s most prolific salmon fishery is one step closer to being protected from toxic mine waste,” said Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks.


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