Wednesday, June 14, 2017

They're Back!--Pebble Mine Threatens Salmon Again

Like a zombie in a B movie, the Pebble Mine disaster is back having survived a regulatory death at the hands of the Obama administration's EPA.  Trump's climate denier at the EPA, Scott Pruitt, struck a deal with mine project owner Northern Dynasty to scrap previously approved regulatory plans protecting Bristol Bay and its world's largest salmon run, allowing the company to reapply for the necessary federal clean water permits.  The agency announced it would settle Northern Dynasty's lawsuit for blocking the previous permit submissions.

Northern Dynasty plans large retaining ponds which would containing toxic mine wastes situated on top of an active earthquake zone, part of the "Ring of Fire" around the Pacific rim.  The mine site is at the headwaters of two major rivers flowing into the Bay.  Spills and seepage of toxic waste into the waters of Bristol Bay are a foregone conclusion. EPA Region 10 administrator Dennis McLerran, told reporters the agency had concluded that even a mine much smaller than the one currently envisioned by Pebble's sponsors would produce "almost unfathomable amounts of rock" which "posed significant risks to the fragile ecosystem" in Bristol Bay.  Sportsman and outdoor industry groups blasted the reversal of policy saying it is a "direct assault on our values".

Besides the bad press and negative public reaction*, the mine project is of dubious economic value.  The gold and copper deposits that are the object are dispersed.  Northern Dynasty would have to digest 99 pounds of rock for each pound of valuable mineral.  More than one company has walked away from exploiting the area on economic grounds alone.  Under the deal with Pruitt, the company has two and half years to refile for permits.  Pruitt has made good on his promise to support extraction industries by his policy actions since becoming EPA's administrator.

*The public has overwhelmingly rejected the Pebble Mine project. More than 65 percent of all Alaskans, 80 percent of Bristol Bay residents – including Native people – and 85 percent of commercial fishermen strongly oppose the Pebble mine.  Over 1.5 million people have submitted negative comments to EPA on the Pebble Mine.