Never have I attended a public hearing where everyone agreed. But that is exactly what happened yesterday in Dillingham, Alaska where over 200 people from Bristol Bay presented a unified front against the proposed Pebble Mine. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy heard the heartfelt concerns of Alaska Natives, residents, and commercial fishermen all of whom depend entirely on salmon for their existence – and each of whose lives and livelihoods is threatened by Pebble Mine.
Along with a formidable contingent of tribal, community and business leaders from the region, NRDC spoke at the public meeting in Dillingham. You can read my testimony below.
Every single person in the room thanked EPA for conducting its assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed, asked EPA to finalize that assessment as soon as possible, and urged EPA to immediately initiate action under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay.
Several Alaska Native youths testified about the importance of both subsistence and commercial salmon fishing to their way of life, noting that they are saving the money they earn from commercial fishing to pay for college. “To us, the wildlife that lives here is worth more than the mine could ever be,” said one Native youth.
The Native youth voices were joined by tribal leaders and elders, all of whom conveyed the urgent need for EPA action. Speaking from the heart, they told stories about salmon and how salmon are the economic and cultural lifeblood of the region.
Even all of the politicians in the room agreed on the need to protect Bristol Bay from Pebble Mine. Alaska State Representative Bryce Edgemon discussed the unanimous support from the Bristol Bay delegation for EPA’s Watershed Assessment. Former President of the Alaska State Senate and lifelong Republican Rick Halford summed it up by saying “the State is lost” – blinded by the false promises of Pebble Mine.
The message to EPA was unanimous: Stop the Pebble Mine. It was conveyed from the heart directly to Administrator McCarthy, who couldn’t help but respond in kind.
Before leaving, Gina McCarthy said that she found her responsibilities daunting but the opportunities presented by her post inspiring. She promised to take action on climate change and other important issues for Alaska. “I intend to make you proud in the position the President has given me,” Administrator McCarthy said.
Administrator McCarthy, please make us proud by stopping the Pebble Mine.
Taryn Kiekow attended and presented the following testimony at the listening session in Dillingham, Alaska:
Good morning. My name is Taryn Kiekow. I am a Senior Policy Analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council and am appearing today on behalf of our 1.3 million members and activists. I am also here today to support the communities and residents of Bristol Bay who overwhelmingly oppose Pebble Mine.
Thank you Administrator McCarthy for visiting the region to hear first-hand the concerns of the people whose communities and livelihoods are threatened by the Pebble Mine. And thank you Regional Administrator McLerran and the EPA staff for responding to the request of tribes and others to protect the Bristol Bay watershed.
NRDC submitted detailed comments on EPA’s Watershed Assessment during the public comment period, so I just want to make three brief points this morning:
First, we commend EPA for undertaking this assessment – especially in the face of recent political opposition on Capitol Hill. I urge you not to be deterred by the false claims that the assessment is either premature or an overreach. As you have heard today, the people of Bristol Bay are asking for your urgent help. Please listen to their heartfelt requests and respond by protecting Bristol Bay under the Clean Water Act.
Second, the Watershed Assessment is objective, clear and grounded in sound science. It’s a highly technical document, but in simple terms it confirms what the residents of the region have long understood: that large scale mining in this place would pose an unacceptable risk.
Third, no amount of modern engineering or mitigation could sufficiently protect Bristol Bay from the inherent risk of large-scale mining. Building a mine of this size, in this location will be destructive. The only certainty is that eventually mitigation will fail, contamination will occur, and salmon will be destroyed.
You’ve been hearing stories today about the importance of salmon and clean water. It’s the lifeblood and economic linchpin of this region. The people are asking EPA to protect Bristol Bay from large-scale mining like the Pebble Mine. EPA’s own assessment confirmed that Bristol Bay is a resource of national and global significance. I hope after hearing all the stories today you will be inspired to protect Bristol Bay.
On behalf of NRDC and its members, we thank you for the critically important work you’ve done so far. We urge you to finalize the Watershed Assessment this year as promised and then immediately initiate action under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect the people and wildlife of Bristol Bay.
Photo credit: NRDC