After three years of research, the Environmental Protection Agency Jan 15 released its final watershed assessment describing how the proposed Pebble Mine would impact salmon and other ecological resources along the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers, as well as native cultures.
The report, titled "An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska," concludes that normal mine operations would destroy 24 to 94 miles of salmon-supporting streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds, and lakes. An additional 9 to 33 miles of salmon-supporting streams would experience altered streamflows.
To make the assessment, the EPA considered mine scenarios proposed by the owner Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., and submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The report also indicates that the mine would generate millions of tons of waste requiring treatment and storage, and that storage failures could have additional massive impacts.
Bristol Bay supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world with a value of $1.5 billion annually, producing nearly 50 percent of the world's wild sockeye salmon with runs averaging 37.5 million fish each year. The Pebble Mine is the world's largest low-grade copper deposit with gold and other minerals valued at more than $400 billion.
The scientific report produced by the EPA has no regulatory effect, but provides decision makers with data they need to process future permit applications.
Also, section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act allows the EPA administrator to prohibit, withdraw, deny or restrict the discharge of dredged or fill materials into the waters of the United States if such discharge "will have an unacceptable adverse effect on . . . fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas." EPA may do so "before a permit application has been submitted to the Corps."
Section 404(c) has been used 13 times; 11 of these have been by Republican administrations.
"The EPA's assessment makes it clear that the Pebble Mine would deal a huge blow to the sportsman's paradise we have in Bristol Bay," said Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited's Alaska Program.
"Bristol Bay is the last place you should put a mine like this. The EPA needs to act now to protect Bristol Bay and Alaskan jobs."