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Friday, January 17, 2014

A Battle Over Mining In Alaska’s Bristol Bay

Sockeye salmon are pictured in a river in the Bristol Bay, Alaska watershed in 2007 (Ben Knight/Trout Unlimited via AP)

Sockeye salmon are pictured in a river in the Bristol Bay, Alaska watershed in 2007 (Ben Knight/Trout Unlimited via AP)

If you look at a map of Alaska, near the peninsula that juts out like a tusk into the Bering sea, is a place called Bristol Bay. The Bristol Bay watershed produces around 46 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, but the area is also rich with gold and copper, and for years debate has raged about putting a mine in the area.

On Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency released its final report on mining in the Bristol Bay area. Among the EPA’s findings was that just building the mine would destroy 24 to 94 miles of salmon-supporting streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes, depending on the size of the mine.

In 2010, a number of tribes in the area called for the EPA to use its power under the Clean Water Act to veto the mine. The EPA has not done that. The Pebble Partnership, which owns the mineral rights, says that doing so is unheard of, and that they should be allowed to undergo the permitting process.

Kimberly Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of our Land), an association of village corporations and tribes in the Bristol Bay region, and John Shively, CEO of the Pebble Partnership, join Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Interview Highlights

John Shively on why the project should go forward

“This is a project that has national implications. We’ll invest $6 to 8 million. That will have an impact on the U.S. economy. It will have an impact on the Alaska economy. We’ll have a 1,000 direct jobs. Many of those jobs will go to people that live in the area that currently don’t have other opportunities. For the local government, it will mean substantial taxes. For the state, we believe we will pay more in taxes from our mine than the entire commercial fishing industry.”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I do know that what the tribes have asked for is completely unprecedented in the country — to come in and have a federal agency stop a project before we can even bring it to the public, to the very extensive permitting process that’s enshrined in both federal and state law. I think that’s a hugely dangerous precedent, not only for Alaska, but for the country.”

Kimberly Williams on why the mine should not be built

“For people who live out here in Bristol Bay who are commercial salmon fishermen or who are subsistence fishermen, like I am today, it’s protecting those 14,000 jobs that come from the salmon industry itself, and making sure that there are no trade-offs, that we don’t trade one industry for another. And what we’ve tried to do is educate the people of Bristol Bay and the nation, and even the world, on what this project and what large-scale mining can do to Bristol Bay and the existing fishery that we have here.”

“We’ve actually conducted polling in the region, and we’ve seen polling of people, as they’ve become more educated about large-scale mining, have gone from 60 percent opposed to over 80 percent opposed to large-scale mining.”

Guests

  • Kimberly Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai.
  • John Shively, CEO of the Pebble Partnership.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Mike

    Sounds like the same old situation of letting the poor people stay poor or letting the rich people get richer.

  • ADG

    Regarding copper vs salmon… The gist of the discussion revolves around one question, sustainable salmon vs non-sustainable resource extraction.
    Is the risk of significant negative impact justifiable given the track record of large scale mining, and copper rmining in particular.
    The Bristol Bay watershed supports an intact ecosystem that has produced relatively consistent salmon runs that have been intact for thousands of years.
    The potential negative impacts resulting from a resource extraction project the size and scope of the pebble project are very real and the EPA reports reflect that reality.
    The potential long term cost to the environment, and the cultural and social fabric of the Bristol Bay region is not worth the potential short term gain from an economic perspective.

    • glorious

      You are exactly right..It’s NOT WORTH IT!

  • RAOUL ORNELAS

    John Shively, CEO of the Pebble Partnership is DEAD WRONG! Bristol Bay, as long as the planet spins and the sun shines, will produce salmon forever for the public. Mines, in ten to 50 years peter out leaving the environment in ruin. I know Alaska, I have worked in the state of Alaska at sea from the Bearing Sea to Southeast Alaska since 1964 to 2008. Furthermore, I was born in a mining town in Arizona. Mines may produce what the country thinks they need but they ruin habit and the environment and produce many air born problems which cause a host of bad elements in air and water. Then there is the smelting process to extract the metal from the rock which also produces all sorts of chemical plumes that not even the best filtration systems cannot remove or eradicate, eventually ending up in water sources that feed a host of fish, mammals which including man. The natural environment of Bristol Bay including the entire water sources all the way to the Puget Sound, Seattle, Washington is a pristine environment that has take millions of years to create – it works like clock; it is the perfect food producing machine not made by man but for the benefit of man, fish, mammals, including plants alike. Mines can and do ruin environments not in million of years but in six months to a three or four years. The Pebble mine in at Bristol Bay is akin to dropping a nuclear bomb in a living environment rendering it dead for thousands of years….. like the the half life of a radiated substance mines are similar to radiation problems. Holding ponds to hold chemical residue from mining and smelting eventually leak seeping in the the water table. The other disturbing item that owners and investors seldom if ever address is this: Owners and investors seldom if ever live in the mining community or near the site of a mine. Most live in several winter and posh summer homes throughout the planet unaffected by the environment messes they create throughout the planet for the sake of adding more wealth for themselves including a modicum of low to medium paying jobs. Making big bucks in Alaska by Joe Blow is a joke when a turnip cost $15.00 a bunch. Last: You can’t eat copper, gold, platinum, lead, or a host of other mineral elements that can and to kill the environment including man, but you can eat salmon. The last thing the planet needs is another mine including another cell phone! The Pebble mine should never be allowed now and forever.

  • REB

    I note Mr. Shively only spoke of the jobs and copper and money produced during the active mining. But, what happens to all the salmon and the rest of Bristol Bay and the AK Peninsula after the miners pack up and go bankrupt?

    In a hundred years, the residents and taxpayers of Alaska and the United States will be paying to clean up the mess left by the mine.

    There are indeed some places on the earth we should not screw up for money.

  • glorious

    Once again it’s all about money and investors… and how much money “they have spent researching” …money that will never be seen by anyone… the promise of “jobs” and most likely the dis regard for native people who will be swept aside as usual. Our waters, the landscape, our surroundings! the very beauty of it is more important to human beings than all the money in the world.
    We’ve heard this all before and it has the same hollow ring to it. I say No No and No to the Pebble Mine

  • glorious

    The “Pebble Partnership” should not be allowed to undergo the permitting process.

  • RAOUL

    Edited:
    John Shively, CEO of the Pebble Partnership is DEAD WRONG!
    Bristol Bay, as long as the planet spins and the sun shines, salmon will
    reproduce forever for the planet as an unlimited source of food. Mines, in ten
    to 50 years peter out leaving the environment in ruin. I know Alaska, I have
    worked in the State of Alaska at sea from the Bearing Sea to Southeast Alaska since
    1964 to 2008. Furthermore I know mines, I was born in a mining town in Arizona.
    Mines may produce what the country thinks they need but they ruin habit and the
    environment and produce many air born problems, which introduce a host of bad
    elements into the air and water. Then there is the smelting process to extract
    the metal from the rock which also produces all sorts of chemical plumes that
    the best filtration systems cannot remove or eradicate, eventually ending up in
    water sources that feed a host of fish, mammals which include man. The natural
    environment of Bristol Bay including the entire water sources all the way to
    the Puget Sound, Seattle, Washington is a pristine environment that has taken
    millions of years to create – it works like clock; it is the perfect natural
    food producing machine not made by man but made my nature for the benefit of
    man, fish, mammals, including plants alike. Mines can and do ruin environments
    not in million of years but in six months to a three or four years. The Pebble
    mine in at Bristol Bay is akin to dropping a nuclear bomb in a living
    environment rendering it dead for thousands of years….. like the half life of
    a radiated substance, mines are similar to radiation problems. Holding ponds to
    hold chemical residue from mining and smelting eventually leak seeping in the
    water table. The other disturbing item that owners and investors seldom if ever
    address is this: Owners and investors seldom if ever live in the mining
    community or near the site of a mine. Most live in several winter and posh
    summer homes throughout the planet unaffected by the environment messes they
    create throughout the planet for the sake of adding more wealth for themselves
    including a modicum of low to medium paying jobs. Making big bucks in Alaska by
    Joe Blow is a joke when a turnip cost $15.00 a bunch. Last: You can’t eat
    copper, gold, platinum, lead, or a host of other mineral elements that can and
    do kill the environment including man, but you can eat salmon. The last thing
    the planet needs is another mine including another cell phone! The Pebble mine
    should never be allowed now and forever.

  • Winter temporary

    If you notice a conspicuous absence of comments from Alaskans to this story, one reason might be that the State’s largest NPR affiliate, KSKA / Anchorage, airs Science Friday in lieu of Here and Now on Fridays. Same goes for KDLG-FM / Dillingham, the station serving a small listening area of western Bristol Bay.
    Unfortunate timing for this segment.

    Other public radio stations in the area — most notably KDLG-AM / Dilingham, KSDP-AM / Sand Point and KYUK / Bethel — don’t broadcast Here and Now at all.

    Only by virtue of Sirius/XM does it happen that I listen to your show. Locations very much farther north of me are outside the coverage range of satellite radio.

    • LesKit

      I’m in Fairbanks and we heard it on KUAC Fairbanks.

      • Initative strained

        At least you’re in Alaska. Most Alaskans will never hear this segment. I was only able to listen online.

  • Jj076

    No wait…what is the point of fighting to protect the salmon when radiation from Japan’s failed nuclear plants will cause more environmental harm for decades than mining ever will…; we are all forgetting the bigger picture (can’t eat gold or copper and can’t eat poison fish).

  • Lencho

    If you want to see the kind of damage and refuse mining can leave behind go to google maps and search in the satellite view for “Bisbee Arizona” The mines there closed down in the 1970′s and the tailings still scar the land.

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