EPA Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment Generates Widespread Applause, Intensifies Opposition to Pebble Mine

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If the proposed Pebble Mine has a best friend, it is silence.

That’s why the Pebble Limited Partnership – the consortium of foreign mining giants behind the uniquely destructive mega-mine planned for the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska – hates the Watershed Assessment prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and released by the agency in draft for public comment last May.

Yesterday, the public comment period closed, and the numbers thus far are bad news for the mining partnership -- and very good news for everyone else.  Of an estimated 204,000 comments received by EPA so far, 200,000 support EPA’s assessment and urge regulatory action to stop the Pebble Mine.  Only 4,000 comments urge EPA to stay away.  Stated another way, 98% support EPA’s engagement and a mere 2% do not. And this isn’t even the final tally.

That’s as close to a unanimous endorsement as will ever be found in the world of public policy.  And the reason is clear:

As EPA’s scientific review found, the Pebble Mine would devastate the region – its wild salmon fishery, its people, its communities, and its economy.  Even if the project were to function perfectly according to permits – an assumption contrary to the experience of every large-scale copper mine anywhere in the world ever – it would cause irreparable harm to what is generally acknowledged to be the most productive wild salmon fishery in the world.

No wonder the opposition in the region exceeds 80% -- and no wonder the public comments on EPA’s draft assessment so overwhelmingly endorse EPA’s involvement.

NRDC submitted extensive comments on the assessment, supported by a wide array of environmental and conservation organizations and business representatives.  The range and diversity of organizations and individuals weighing in to support EPA can be found on EPA’s website here.

PBS Frontline also ran a Pebble Mine segment on Tuesday evening, called  Alaska Gold – an hour-long documentary that portrays, in the words of former Alaska Senate President Rick Halford, what is the “biggest environmental fight of this century for Alaska.” Frontline shows the extraordinary natural resources of Bristol Bay, meets the people who will be affected most if the mine is ever approved and built, and delves into why the region is fighting so hard against it.

Notably, Pebble Partnership representatives, including its CEO and VP for Environmental Permitting, proved once again to be their own worst enemies.  They repeatedly expressed their unbridled confidence in the capacity of technology – yet unidentified and never proven, if indeed it exists except in their highly compensated imaginations – to (1) contain the projected 10 billion tons of contaminated mining waste forever; and (2) enable construction of one of the world’s largest copper mines at the headwaters of a wild salmon ecosystem without harming the fish.

Does anyone really believe them?  Is there any basis at all to support their limitless confidence in technology to protect a resource that everyone – even Pebble’s CEO and VP for Environmental Planning – agree that we cannot afford to lose?

The battle against the Pebble Mine is one of the most important conservation issues of our time. It’s a battle we have to win.  NRDC is committed for as long as it takes.

Take action now to stop the Pebble Mine.