Take Action to Oppose Pebble Mine

Sockeye salmon in Lake Iliamna, which drains into Bristol Bay

Top photo: Sockeye salmon in Lake Iliamna, which drains into Bristol Bay

Recently I had the opportunity to be a panelist on a webinar hosted by Conserve America to talk about the Pebble Mine project at the headwaters of Bristol Bay in Alaska. I have written about this project before. This webinar was an opportunity to provide an update on the Pebble Mine Project, and also remind viewers about the problems with this project and what is at stake.

While the Network does not work directly on the Bristol Bay issue, we follow it closely because of what it means to marine resources. We recently joined with 25 outdoor recreation companies and organizations asking that the Army Corps of Engineers deny the Pebble Mine a permit. While mining should and can be done responsibly, what was true more than 10 years ago is still true today. The Pebble Mine project is, in the words of Alaska’s former Senator Ted Stevens, “the wrong mine in the wrong place.”

Where are we today

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). The final EIS, due out soon, is supposed to address all substantive comments. The next step will be a record of decision (ROD) likely later this summer. While there is still some hope that the administration will do the right thing and say no to Pebble, I am not optimistic.

What should give the supporters of Pebble some concern is language authored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), in an appropriations bill. It states:

The Committee notes that mul-tiple Federal agencies commented to express their concerns that the DEIS is inadequate and does not meet the Army Corps’ obliga­tions to thoroughly evaluate the potential impacts of the proposed project. The Committee shares the agencies’ concerns that the DEIS lacks certain critical information about the proposed project and related mitigation and therefore likely underestimates its po­tential risks and impacts.

The language is a warning shot to the Army Corps of Engineers to tread carefully with the permitting process. You can read the rest of the report language on page 91.

Should the administration move forward with permitting, while falling short of the language in the report that asks for deficiencies in the DEIS and the process to be addressed, there will be a lot of folks reminding Senator Murkowski about her language and asking her to step in.

Today it is as important as ever to contact your congressional delegation and let them know how you feel. I’ve put some links at the bottom to ways you can take action.

What’s at stake

If mining is necessary, then logic dictates one acknowledge the risk. There is no such thing as a 100% safe mining operation. Of particular concern is a breach in the tailings facility at the mine. Development of the mine requires storing more than 10 billion tons of toxic waste at the headwaters of Bristol Bay forever. Even a small amount of the poisonous acid and toxic waste runoff from the mine will destroy the salmon habitat. It would be catastrophic to fish, wildlife and the businesses that depend on them. And the taxpayers could be left with the bill to clean up the destruction.

There are many issues of concern when it comes to the Pebble project. During the webinar I spoke about two of them, seafood production and the economic importance to outdoor recreation.

Seafood production

Today we see a growing interest in direct to consumer food supply. This was happening before the pandemic and has increased since. Groups like the Local Catch network are providing local, healthy, low-impact, and economically sustainable seafood via local and direct marketing arrangements. The Slow Food campaign has been working in the field of sustainable fish for many years, educating seafood-lovers and developing projects to support responsible artisanal fishing communities. Most of the fish I cook comes from Sitka Salmon Shares, which is part of a community-supported fishery. CSFs are members-based organizations that allow you to purchase a “share” of the harvest of one of our independent, small-boat family fishermen.

Recognizing the importance of seafood to our country, the administration recently issued its Executive Order Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth [EO] which says in part, “America needs a vibrant and competitive seafood industry to create and sustain American jobs, put safe and healthy food on American tables, and contribute to the American economy.”

At the same time the EO warns of a trade imbalance in seafood when it states, “Despite America’s bountiful aquatic resources, by weight our Nation imports over 85 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States.”

If we want to supply high quality, domestic seafood to America’s table, then we should be doing everything in our power to protect those resources rather than risking them for mineral extraction by a foreign company.

Bristol Bay is a small boat commercial fishery

Each operator is a domestic small business operating sustainably to bring this local resource to market. Bristol Bay’s watershed is the most ecologically and economically important remaining salmon fishery on the planet. The Bristol Bay fishery is valued at $1.5 billion annually and supports more than 14,000 American jobs, including commercial fishermen, processors, lodge owners, guides, tourism operators and more. If Pebble Mine is developed, it will threaten the livelihoods of thousands of Alaskans and workers from the lower 48.

Bristol Bay anchors the entire Alaska seafood industry and pays for itself. Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery creates $14.7 million in revenue for local government entities, more than paying for its costs of management. In 2018, the Bristol Bay region was 48% of Alaska’s total salmon value, and 38% of total number of salmon harvested.

Salmon fishing contributes directly to Alaska’s economy. The mining profits will go to outside executives and corporations who don’t seem to care about the harm they may inflict on Alaska’s environment and economy. And most mining jobs would go to non-Alaskans.

If we want to continue to benefit from Alaska’s world-renowned wild salmon runs, we have a shared responsibility to protect the fish and their habitat. Salmon are an essential part of what makes Alaska great, and we must do everything we can to protect that legacy for future generations. This important, sustainable economic activity will only continue if the headwater streams remain intact.

Economic importance of outdoor recreation.

I’ll put my fishing guide hat on for this one. The Pebble Mine site is in the heart of world class trout and salmon streams. As Brian Kraft, owner of Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge in Bristol Bay, said:

Alaskans and Bristol Bay businesses have said NO to this mine for years. Pebble Mine would fundamentally alter a world-class fishery upon which family businesses and 37,000 recreational fishermen rely, and rivers that are slated to bring 40 million wild salmon to the region this year.

Sportfishing tourism brings in at least $75 million a year to the local economy and draws fishermen and women from around the world. Sport fishermen spend nearly $60 million a year to experience the prize fishing in this area.

Almost every fly shop or tackle manufacturer in the world likely earns some portion of their living from people fishing in this area. Year after year, Bristol Bay produces millions of fish worth hundreds of millions of dollars, like no other place in the world.

The efforts to stop this mine has been supported by a very broad coalition of individual anglers, commercial anglers, lodge owners, hunters, and locals who see this as a threat to their future.

Bottom line

The fight to stop Pebble Mine has been going on for 10 years. The proposals have not gotten any better nor the opposition any less.

Backers of this mine ask us to make a choice between a sustainable resource that has supported native communities and small businesses and that brings healthy seafood to our dining tables or an extraction endeavor that has the potential to cause harm for years to come.

The marine resources at risk are irreplaceable. It is time once again to say no to Pebble Mine.

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About Tom Sadler

Tom Sadler is the Network's deputy director. He has an extensive background in advocacy and journalism and a passion for oceans and fly-fishing. 

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