News From EPA: Alaska Mines Propel State to National Lead In Toxic Chemical Releases

Every time I go to Alaska I’m struck by the State’s sheer size. Alaska is one of the most beautiful places in the world, no doubt, but for me what Alaska is, is big.  Like, really, really big.  To someone who’s used to living in the lower forty-eight and has never been there, it can be hard to describe.  Suffice it so say, that Alaska is the only place I’ve ever been that makes Montana look small.  As I’ve heard Alaskans say: “If Alaska was three states, Texas would be the fourth largest State in the Union.”

It’s also very sparsely populated.  A little over 700,000 people call Alaska home.  To put that in perspective, if Alaska was a city, it would rank somewhere between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Detroit.  And half of those folks live in Anchorage.

So I was shocked to learn from the Environmental Protection Agency that when it comes to pollution, Alaska releases more toxic chemicals into the environment than any other state; more than New Jersey (sorry guys), or Texas, or California.  Why? Mining:

Due to extensive metal mining activity and the permitted disposal of large volumes of regulated mining waste, Alaska had the highest TRI [Toxic Release Inventory] releases in the nation and had a 25 percent increase in releases from the previous year.  . . . Since 1998, when metal mining was added to TRI, 99 percent of Alaska’s reported releases have come from the regulated disposal of waste rock and mine tailings.

Add to that the fact that mining is an inherently messy business.  All mines leak, even the most rigorously regulated ones.  Given that Alaska is already producing a huge volume of toxic waste, waste that on a per capita basis simply dwarfs any other state, the last thing Alaskans should do is build a another massive mine on top of what could be the State’s most important watershed: the headwaters to Bristol Bay, one of the most productive wild salmon fisheries in the world.

Because, you know what’s not messy: the sustainable fisheries that Bristol Bay, Lake Iliamna, and region support.   Perhaps the prospect of locating a massive mine, which would generate some 10 billion tons of waste, on top of the rivers and streams that feed this great natural wealth is why the overwhelming majority of local residents and, indeed, all Alaskans oppose the Pebble Mine.  It’s a mine that the EPA has confirmed could have a devastating impact on the environment.  Click here to ask EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to stop the Pebble Mine. 

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