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The "No Pebble Mine" Message Is Getting Louder

Matt Skoglund

Posted December 9, 2011 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Opposition to the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s famed Bristol Bay region continues to mount, with some major seafood processors now wading into the anti-Pebble waters.

In late November, the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, a seafood industry trade association, issued a statement explaining its opposition to the proposed mine. Notably, since its formation in 1914, the Association has never “taken a position in opposition to any specific development project or category of projects of other natural resource industries. Doing so now is not a decision our Association takes lightly.”

In fact, just four years ago the Association released a position paper that was “generally supportive of allowing the [Pebble Mine] project to proceed in the exploration, scientific research, and permit application processes.” But the paper went on to express “deep concern that the project appeared to pose an unacceptably high risk of degrading important watersheds feeding the world’s most productive sockeye salmon fishery,” and the Association stated that “it would oppose the Pebble Mine project unless the developer can ensure that there will be no negative impacts to the region’s water quality or to Alaska’s fishery resources and their marketability.”

Now, four years later, the Association has determined that it “can see no way that [Pebble Mine] can be developed, operated, and concluded without – at some point – causing irreparable harm to the watersheds, ecosystems, fishery resources, businesses, people, and communities of the region.”

Therefore, the Association “concluded that the level of risk posed by the Pebble mine is simply too high . . . [and] after careful consideration, we are compelled to oppose development of the Pebble mine project due to its unique location, size, and potential harm.”

This is huge news.

The corporate members of the Association are major seafood processing companies with thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars at stake (e.g., North Pacific Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, Alaska General Seafoods, among others). Viewing the proposed Pebble Mine through a dispassionate business lens, they see that the risks posed by the proposed mine to Bristol Bay and its renowned wild salmon fishery are simply too great to ignore.

A few months ago, I wrote about Pebble Mine, calling it The Worst Idea Ever, and my experience in the area where the developers of the mine want to build it. To recap, the proposed Pebble Mine would be one of the world’s largest open-pit mines –  a 2,000-foot-deep, 2-mile-long gold and copper mine with massive earthen dams built to hold back some 10 billion (billion with a “b”) tons of mining waste. Roads will be built in what is now a pristine roadless wilderness, and the whole damned nightmare would be smack dab in the middle of a known earthquake zone.

As these major seafood processing companies realized, Pebble Mine poses an unavoidable risk of irreversible damage to Bristol Bay, including the permanent destruction of dozens of miles of wild salmon habitat.

Today, Bristol Bay is home to the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon (tens of millions of fish), which supports a sustainable fishery and thousands of jobs. It’s also home to brown bears, wolves, caribou, freshwater seals and countless birds and other cool critters.

Over the past few years, dozens of jewelry companies have also announced their opposition to Pebble Mine and pledged to boycott any gold sourced from the mine. According to the CEO of Tiffany & Co., “[T]here are some special places where mining clearly does not represent the best long-term use of resources. In Bristol Bay, we believe the extraordinary salmon fishery clearly provides the best opportunity to benefit Southwestern Alaskan communities in a sustainable way. For Tiffany & Co., and we believe for many of our fellow retail jewelers, this means we must look to other places to responsibly source our gold."

And there is more. 

A new poll released this week sheds light – for the first time – on public sentiment toward the proposed mine in the lower 48 states, finding that a significant majority of Americans in the lower 48 (77%) oppose Pebble Mine. The poll also confirmed, once again, the opposition of a majority of Alaskans (68%).

And just this past summer a poll was released that showed 85% opposition to the Pebble Mine among the commercial fishing community in Bristol Bay. The poll revealed that fishermen and fisherwomen are virtually unanimous – 98% – in their agreement that the headwaters of Bristol Bay should be protected. 

This succession of independent opinion surveys and concerted action by the jewelry and seafood industries graphically document the intensifying opposition to the Pebble Mine. More and more people and businesses are realizing that Bristol Bay and its wild salmon are worth significantly more without a massive gold and copper mine than with one.

All of this great news makes me want to go out and hug a wild salmon. (Well, truth be told, I love to fly-fish, and I’m always in the mood to hug a wild salmon.)

Anti-Pebble sentiment is growing, and, if you haven’t already, follow the jewelers’ and seafood processors’ lead and take action now to stop the Pebble Mine.

When it comes to protecting Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, silence is not an option.

 

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(Photos courtesy and copyright of Robert Glenn Ketchum)

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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