skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Fracking
Safe Chemicals
Defending the Clean Air Act

Taryn Kiekow Heimer’s Blog

Alaska to EPA: Stay away from Pebble Mine (but please help us clean up this other mine)

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Posted August 23, 2012 in Reviving the World's Oceans, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

Tags:
, , , , , , , ,
Share | | |

Alaska is sending EPA mixed messages.  On the one hand, Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty has told EPA to steer clear of Pebble Mine.  On the other hand, he just asked EPA to clean up the Red Devil mine. 

Does Alaska want EPA’s help, or not?

When it comes to Pebble Mine, the answer is definitely not. 

Pebble Mine is a gigantic gold and copper mine proposed at the headwaters of the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska.  Because the mine (and its 10 billion tons of toxic waste) would threaten salmon (which are the lifeblood of the region), Alaska Native Tribes, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, commercial fishermen and others have asked EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay and its salmon.  In response, EPA initiated a scientific review of the potential impacts of large-scale mining on Bristol Bay, which concluded that large scale mining could have devastating impacts on the water, salmon, and wildlife of the region—and on the people who depend on those resources for their survival. 

Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty has been unabashedly critical of EPA’s involvement.  In a letter to EPA, Geraghty called the agency’s Watershed Assessment “unlawfully preemptive, premature, arbitrary, capricious and vague.” Geraghty also wrote on op-ed in the Anchorage Daily News detailing why EPA should stay away from a preemptive decision on Pebble Mine and instead leave the permitting up to the state (never mind that Alaska has never said “no” to a large-scale mine). 

But when it comes to cleaning up the Red Devil mine, the answer is different.  

Vermont Superfund Site Copper Mine.jpg           Seeps at base of TP1, Elizabeth Copper Mine Superfund Site Vermont, USA

Red Devil is an abandoned mercury mine oozing toxins in Southwest Alaska.  After sediment tests found levels of arsenic and mercury more than 100 times federal screening level and other tests found higher-than-normal levels of mercury in fish, Geraghty asked EPA for help.  On behalf of the state, he asked EPA to place the Red Devil site on its Superfund national priorities list.  This designation would give EPA control and, according to Geraghty, help ensure proper clean up.

So what’s the real message?

Although there is irony in the State of Alaska taking contrary positions, I think the bigger message is that mines will eventually leak, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.  Extreme cases like Red Devil require EPA to step in under Superfund.   

Instead of waiting for contamination to occur at the Pebble Mine – as it inevitably will – we should encourage EPA to act now to stop the project before contamination can occur. We know enough to know that Pebble Mine would have devastating impacts on the region.   We know enough to say no –now.

Please join the Alaska Natives, Bristol Bay residents, and commercial and subsistence fishermen and encourage EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to proactively protect the region.  It’s time to stop the Pebble Mine.

 

Photo Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Share | | |

Comments

A Real Alaska NativeAug 24 2012 03:22 AM

Please stop speaking on behalf of Alaska Natives. I am Alaska Native. You are not. My family is from Bristol Bay, a place you no doubt have ever spent any time. I believe in the process that our government has in place to permit and determine the impact of a project.

Environmental groups who have never spent a winter in rural Alaska, or had to pay more than HALF of their annual income in heating fuel, suffered with 80% unemployment in most villages (or more), rampant alcoholism, suicide and domestic and sexual violence, are suddenly the expert on what Alaska Natives and rural Alaskans want. The majority of Native people do not commercial fish, because it is too expensive to run a fishing operation. Many do subsistence fish, but nowhere near the extent they used to when shipping and transportation were obsolete, and most are moving out of the villages, so they no longer subsistence fish, gather and hunt.

Villages are completely boarding up because there are no jobs, so families with children are leaving, thereby forcing the schools to close because there is a minimum 10 student requirement for federal funding.

Please be concerned about the Alaska Native people and their living conditions outside of any mine prospect. If you were truly concerned about renewable and natural resources you would spend more than an hour or two touring the region and invest your globally funded environmental organization that uses scare tactics and gross misrepresentation to raise funds so you have a job. Why not provide scholarships or training, or a fuel stipend for the Alaska Natives who live in these villages? This isn't about fish, or Alaska Natives, it is about your global fundraising.

Our village are dying...dying for jobs, for an economy, for a purpose. Do NOT speak on behalf of Alaska Natives you know nothing about, nor have walked a day in our shoes.

kindnikAug 24 2012 04:30 AM

In reply to A Real Alaska Native. I'm a real white person. I've hung out with and researched white people and their behaviors. They want your resources, timber, oil, fish, minerals. They will pollute your land, water, and body on their way to total control of you and yours. I can't speak on behalf of Alaska natives, but my observation of white people and their past encounters with natives leads me to say, don't trust white people if you're native American.

Fred WeissAug 24 2012 07:42 AM

In reply to "a real white person" who tells "A Real Alaska Native" not to "trust white people", I think you should follow his advice and not trust him. He would be very happy for your people to remain impoverished - from the comfort of his modern home in a prosperous society based on industrial development. If he thinks your subsistence existence (of even those who can manage that much) is so wonderful, maybe he'd be willing to trade places with you.

Taryn Kiekow HeimerAug 24 2012 11:45 AM

Thank you for sharing your perspective. While I've been to Bristol Bay and had a chance to speak with many people who live in the region, it is certainly true that I've never walked in your shoes. I would never presume to speak for you. However, I do support the consistent demonstration of opposition by Alaska Natives, Bristol Bay residents, and people of the region who oppose the Pebble Mine in overwhelming numbers:

The Bristol Bay Native Corporation, 81% of whose Native shareholders oppose Pebble Mine;

The residents of the Bristol Bay region, over 80% of whom oppose Pebble Mine;

The majority of voters in the Lake and Peninsula Borough, who last October approved the Save Our Salmon Initiative to bar large scale mining like the Pebble Mine;

Nunamta Aulukestai, comprising ten Native villages and nine Native village corporations in the Bristol Bay region -- an association repeatedly on record in opposition to the Pebble Mine; and

The nine federally-recognized tribes that have petitioned the EPA to protect Bristol Bay from large-scale mining like the Pebble Mine.

The record of large-scale mining globally is dismal, and while mining is a necessary industry in our society, it doesn’t make sense to allow it everywhere -- especially in a location where opposition of the people who live there is so strong and where the survival of one of the greatest wild salmon fisheries in the world -- and the source today of over ten thousand jobs every year -- would unavoidably be put at risk.

Melvin WillardAug 24 2012 02:33 PM

I am also a real Alaskan Native, and I oppose Pebble. Pebble would provide about 500 direct jobs for a few generations only. How many of those ‘new’ jobs will be from the surrounding villages? The 500 direct jobs is already a lower count than the direct jobs by Salmon fishing in the Bay (Bristol Bay watershed permit holders – not counting crew, processor jobs, transportation and infrastructure associated with fishing activities). The temporary 500 jobs will displace more local fishing jobs, and only be for a few generations – is it really worth it? Salmon in the Bay provided marine nutritional value for thousands of years, why stop now? While the ecological damage from tailings is only a probability – (if you ignore the fact that no large scale mine is free of ecological problems), the amount of groundwater that will be used for the operation right at the head waters of two major river systems for the Bay is sure to reduce the amount of Salmon as the groundwater is needed to keep the sockeye eggs from freezing during the winter. Even ignoring the fact that Pebble’s impoundment is right in line of a major fault line (ever look at a map – where is Lake Clark pointing?), the groundwater issue will cause substantial damage in and of itself. I am guessing that the ‘A Real Alaska Native’ lives in Iliamna or one of the communities upriver from the proposed Pebble site. Given the plan for Pebble, the benefits would accrue east of the site, with all the risk and problems flowing west.

‘A Real Alaska Native’ is correct in that our villages are dying…dying for jobs, for an economy, for a purpose. However, putting more nails in the coffin with projects such as Pebble will only hasten that trajectory.

By the way, not all white people are as evil as kindnik would make out.

ed jonesAug 25 2012 04:44 PM

Another insufferably righteous do-gooder intent on dictating to others what is "good" for them.

Someone else has observed that your comparison of the as-yet undesigned Pebble, on state land with state permitting requirements, to a decades old site from another era, on Federal Land that requires federal remediation is classic 1984-style disinformation.

I'll bet you're all up in arms over "Global Warming" also, and oblivious to the data "adjustments', information suppression and outright propaganda that has perpetrated that Power grab.

I find it fascinating, how technology evolves in every area except environmental impact mitigation. The Demand is always "No Development!". But I don't see you giving up your Laptop, Smartphone, Lithium-Ion battery equipped, environmentally "Friendly" auto, your copper indoor plumbing and electricity infrastructure, your cheap fertilizer and pesticide enabled food supply, your medical devices and sanitation systems and the countless other things you take for granted that spring from the earth in only the most raw, elementary form.

Your ilk are not even intellectually one - dimensional, rather your faux intellect is a masquerade of compulsive emotionalism - magical thinking at its' most ignorant. You can't see that your mindless love of the planet is an act of hatred toward millions of Human Beings whom you would gladly doom to another century of impoverished misery the likes of which you never had, and never will have to suffer.

There is no Santa Claus.

Chris KingAug 25 2012 07:12 PM

@ Ed Jones - You're absolutely correct that there is no Santa Claus. This is why we need people to balance each other out. The fat man in the sleigh isn't going to keep the air clean, the water pure, or anything else that is required to maintain the delicate balance of a healthy biosphere.

You accuse the author of the blog of having a mindless love of the planet. I'm not aware of the world in which the emotion of love makes intellectual sense, however in this case the action of love is necessary to prevent those who would do harm from going too far.

You cite science in your response and so I appeal to your logical side: How delicate is the balance in a biosphere? I suspect you understand and agree that it is very delicate. Why is this delicate balance so important to maintain? So that the planet can sustain life!

How is this so-called "mindless love of the planet", that serves to preserve the very foundation of our lives, an act of hatred against human beings?

Without protecting the planet and maintaining the balance, the plants, the animals, the insects, and the humans including you would cease to exist. That doesn't sound like a hatred of human beings to me. That sounds like someone who is trying to do what they think is best to be responsible.

You're also right about the left-wing global warming agenda lacking scientific evidence (science actually shows the left to be completely wrong on this one, actually). But your comment is unfounded. This is a classic bait-and-switch argument and is usually an attempt to support a fallacious statement or manipulate someone into their way of thinking. It's a pitch in the dirt. I'd say that argument is "spoken like a true politician."

Your unfounded commentary based on your emotions illustrates your lack of objectivity. (Emotions and objectivity have a gas/clutch relationship. Once one is emotional, they can no longer be objective.) The end result is that your argument is weakened by its introduction. Try and stick to the point.

Lastly, I think before you start attacking someone's credibility, intellect, etc., you should at least do so by omitting the typos. It's very difficult to support someone's finger-pointing when that person puts the apostrophe after the letter “s” in the sentence about "magical thinking." This might also be a good time to inform you that the misplaced apostrophe is actually not supposed to be there at all. "It's" is a conjunction of "it is". In your sentence, "its" would be the correct word.

Gerry SasseAug 25 2012 09:11 PM

Thank you so much for taking the time and energy to educate the public about Pebble Mine and the consequences to the environment for mining.
I am so grateful for your soul consciousness about caring for Mother Earth, all of its peoples, and living things such as the salmon in Alaska.
I appreciate you looking to the future to protect our natural resources and for long range consequences to the planet if we don't protect our natural resources.
My hats are off to you. Keep up the fantastic work including a higher purpose for your work!

ed jonesAug 26 2012 12:51 AM

Chris,

"How delicate is the balance in a biosphere?"

Not 'delicate' at all - mass extinctions, a major volcano, drought , pestilence, or meteor hit and it is back to square one. Nature or nukes, the means doesn't matter - only the outcome. DO YOU REALLY THINK THE NATURAL WORLD IS AWAITING OUR CRIMES OR ACTS OF 'GOODNESS'?

Jesus! Such a God-Complex we have, do we not?

Whistling past the graveyard - thanks for embodying the idea.

When you are scratching tubers out of the rocky soil and putting mud compresses on your wounds, I will take you seriously. When you are clearing the land and swatting at insects, I will take you seriously. When a simple bone fracture puts you in fear of a prolonged starvation and death, I will take you seriously.

When you cook what little food you can obtain over an animal dung fire, I will take you seriously . . . but you won't be spreading your fatuous nonsense via the internet at that juncture, will you?

Chris KingAug 26 2012 04:48 AM

Ed - Thank you. Your complete failure to formulate an intelligent response illustrates my point. Your statements and use of all caps confirms my suspicion that you're an emotional mess who has no idea how to respond, but instead only knows how to react. You popped off your emotional tirade so rashly that you couldn't even do it in one post. I estimate this impetuousness is the emotional maturity of about a mid teenage boy.

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you're going to see every issue as a nail. Perhaps you need to go to the hardware store. Clearly your toolbox is a bit light.

Leif SmithAug 26 2012 07:51 AM

I'm not convinced that the mining company cannot make a good case that the latest technology will allow a mine compatible with nature. Let's give them a chance to present their case. The backers of an EPA shutdown seem to want to forbid the project without giving the company a chance to present their science. This makes me suspect that they are afraid the science will be good.

Dale BAug 26 2012 09:07 AM

What Taryn's opinion fails to mention is that the State of Alaska has nothing to do with this mine.
This mine was from decades ago when there was no reasonable over-site( The mine operated from 1933 until 1971) and was operated on federal land and under federal jurisdiction by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

That can be found here

http://dec.alaska.gov/spar/csp/docs/western/red-devil.pdf

The Red Devil Mine is a historic
abandoned mercury mine located on
the banks of the Kuskokwim River,
250 miles west of Anchorage and 1.5
miles southeast of Red Devil (pop. 29).
The mine is on 10 acres of land
managed by the Bureau of Land
Management (BLM)

So why shouldn't Alaska ask for help? It's a Federal mine that was not closed properly in 1971.
Now Taryn thinks the State of Alaska should clean it up with the citizens of Alaska tax dollar.

I beg to differ.

This clean up should ONLY be funded by the federal government.

By the way !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

One of the best comments ever was the 1st one by A Real Alaska Native.

Dale BAug 26 2012 04:52 PM

Junior
I guess that's what bother me more than anything. Most of these blogs are written with emotion ,rather than facts. And a lot of the times the facts used are skewed.

Stir emotion. Ask for donations and keep the money flowing. It happens all the time.

Fishin TuitionAug 27 2012 10:28 AM

Oh yes, let us discuss the race card here as if it has any validity in this argument whatsoever. I'm a U.S. Citizen, and have been for generations; my Family is from America, Native American's in the sense of how many generations does it take to figure out that the Tzar, sold the property to President Lincoln's Secretary of State, William H. Seward, who stated with perfection, March 11 1850;

"But there is a higher law than the Constitution, which regulates our authority over the domain, and devotes it to the same noble purposes. The territory is a part, no inconsiderable part, of the common heritage of mankind, bestowed upon them by the Creator if the universe. We are his stewards, and must so discharge our trust as to secure in the highest attainable degree their happiness. How momentous that trust is, we may learn from the instructions of the founder of modern philosophy:

"No man," says Bacon, "can by care-taking, as the Scripture saith, add a cubit to his stature in this little model of a man's body; but, in the great frame of kingdoms and commonwealths, it is in the power of princes or estates to add amplitude and greatness to their kingdoms. For, by introducing such ordinances, constitutions, and customs, as are wise, they may sow greatness to their posterity and successors. But these things are commonly not observed, but left to take their chance..."

As the First Post Stated;
Please be concerned about the Alaska Native people and their living conditions outside of any mine prospect. If you were truly concerned about renewable and natural resources you would spend more than an hour or two touring the region and invest your globally funded environmental organization that uses scare tactics and gross misrepresentation to raise funds so you have a job. Why not provide scholarships or training, or a fuel stipend for the Alaska Natives who live in these villages? This isn't about fish, or Alaska Natives, it is about your global fundraising.
Our village are dying...dying for jobs, for an economy, for a purpose. Do NOT speak on behalf of Alaska Natives you know nothing about, nor have walked a day in our shoes..."

Evidently the BBEDC.com; the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, is not another walk in their shoes Corporation, and Does not Speak "Real Alaska Native?"

Boarding up the lies, like boarding up a Village, it takes an idiot too...

"The old general rule was that educated people did not perform manual labor. They managed to eat their bread, leaving the toil of producing it to the uneducated. This was not an insupportable evil to the working bees, so long as the class of drones remained very small. But now, especially in these free States, nearly all are educated--quite too nearly all, to leave the labor of the uneducated, in any wise adequate to the support of the whole. It follows from this that henceforth educated people must labor. Otherwise, education itself would become a positive and intolerable evil. No country can sustain, in idleness, more than a small percentage of its numbers. The great majority must labor at something productive."
Abraham Lincoln

Dale BAug 29 2012 08:08 AM

Representative Don Young:
"EPA, Listen to Alaskans, Not Outside Interests"

Alaska Representative Don Young, (R), has challenged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 Administrator's claim that 90 percent of the comments received by the EPA related to the agency's draft Bristol Bay watershed assessment are supportive of the effort.

"Once again, the EPA is not listening to Alaskans - and even worse, they are misleading the public."

A mass email campaign generated by radical environmental groups, such as the National Resource Development Council, the Sierra Club and Pew Environmental Group, are responsible for the referenced support. Read Representative Young's news release...

BelgianAug 30 2012 07:27 AM

And what about this FACT: EPA disregarded request of 10 out of 12 Native Corporations to extent discussion period.

http://www.pebblepartnership.com/perch/resources/nuna-comments-packet-7-23-12.pdf

A Real Eskimo...Aug 30 2012 05:45 PM

I'm an Eskimo. I don't mind at all if you speak for this group. Because you are like-minded, accurate in your position and philosophy, and in fact, DO reflect the indigenous perspective of the majority of Bristol Bay, as well as non-native members of the same community.
Whether or not you are, or are not, "Alaska Native" makes no difference when it comes to this mine.

By the way - REAL First Peoples identify themselves by heritage, not the generic political definition "Alaska Native."
That phrase is fine; nothing wrong with it, not offensive. It's just a generic term invented by the Interior Department to apply to define the varied culture groups in Alaska, to distinguish from "American Indian." Makes sense. But it's not what I am.

The Iliamna Development Corporation speaks for NO ONE but their corporate entity and its very small family group who fly free to Anchorage in Pilates jets. The financial beneficiaries, White spouses/relatives given leadership roles, and the handful of people who are being paid for their voice DO NOT speak for anyone but themselves. They certainly have a vested interest and I don't blame them one bit for holding both hands out and protecting their lucrative contracts and bank accounts. Good for you.

But don't you dare assume MY voice from your beautiful suite of offices in a high-rise building (next door to Northern Dynasty Minerals) and your corporate apartments and Anchorage homes. IDC: 3201 C St # 406 Anchorage, AK 99503.

A Real Eskimo...Aug 30 2012 05:58 PM

The ANCSA corporations are regional for-profit corporations. They are not cultural institutions nor do they constitute formal federally-recognized tribes. They are not tribes. They represent the financial investment of shareholders, divided up into 13 regions. Shareholders comprise different cultures and traditions - whoever lived in that region when the corporation was formed. For example, Anchorage-based Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI) has shareholders of all Alaska culture groups - Eskimo, Aleut, Athabascan, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimpsan.

The corporate leaders of all except 13th Region and SeaAlaska, live and work in Anchorage. They don't live in villages. Those 10 corporate leaders are not the voice of the shareholders. Just themselves and the financial/political interests of the corporation. See?
They pay lobbyists in Juneau and Washington D.C. They own stuff. Invest. Like any other corporation, anywhere.

A Real Eskimo...Aug 30 2012 06:31 PM

Taryn and readers - please _DON'T_ look at this issue as a social services solution to poverty. Please _DON'T_ spin this issue emotionally from a 'needy Natives who need a hand up' perspective. No bleeding hearts necessary.

This is plain and simple about resource development. In an environmentally-sensitive area in undeveloped wilderness with existing tourism and economic opportunity which is incompatible with large-scale open pit mining. By international mining conglomerates who bought the option, fair and square, to one of the largest deposits ever identified.

_THIS IS NOT A SOCIAL OR RACIAL ISSUE._

This is just embarrassing and demoralizing to indigenous people everywhere. Stop doing this. Shame on you. It's pathetic. Inappropriate. Untruthful.

"Environmental groups who have never spent a winter in rural Alaska, or had to pay more than HALF of their annual income in heating fuel, suffered with 80% unemployment in most villages (or more), rampant alcoholism, suicide and domestic and sexual violence, are suddenly the expert on what Alaska Natives and rural Alaskans want. The majority of Native people do not commercial fish, because it is too expensive to run a fishing operation. Many do subsistence fish, but nowhere near the extent they used to when shipping and transportation were obsolete, and most are moving out of the villages, so they no longer subsistence fish, gather and hunt.
Villages are completely boarding up because there are no jobs, so families with children are leaving, thereby forcing the schools to close because there is a minimum 10 student requirement for federal funding.
Please be concerned about the Alaska Native people and their living conditions outside of any mine prospect.
Why not provide scholarships or training, or a fuel stipend for the Alaska Natives who live in these villages?
Our village are dying...dying for jobs, for an economy, for a purpose."

Eeerrrggh.

"The majority of Native people do not commercial fish, because it is too expensive to run a fishing operation."
NOT TRUE AT ALL. MOST Bristol Bay First Peoples DO commercial fish. Many Bethel-area Kuskokwim families are also invested in fisheries. Iliamna people sold their handful of permits when the prices were high, long before there was a Pebble Mine to consider. They didn't want to fish. The end. Good for them. A personal choice.
Third- and fourth- and even fifth-generation young people continue to invest in Limited Entry permits and commercial fishing vessels and work the set-net sites of their parents and grandparents. That doesn't happen to be Iliamna's tradition. You HAD fishermen and boat owners, but you all got out of it. No problem, but don't change the narrative to suit your community.

"Many do subsistence fish, but nowhere near the extent they used to when shipping and transportation were obsolete."
Um. I think you mean before shipping and transportation created a cash economy with imported goods readily available? Look up that word, obsolete. I don't think that's what you meant.
ALL community members subsistence fish AND hunt. Native and non-native alike. Not too different than in the past. Groceries are enormously expensive. You have to fill freezers, or you'd have to depend on what groceries are shipped in. What is very different is that people work regular 9-5 jobs, year-round, with children in school. So we're not living an 18th-century nomadic existence, are we?

"...most are moving out of the villages, so they no longer subsistence fish, gather and hunt."
Again, NOT TRUE AT ALL. Most are not moving.

"Villages are completely boarding up..."
NOT TRUE. No, villages are not boarding up. Come take a tour north and see what villages look like.


Comments are closed for this post.

About

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.

Feeds: Taryn Kiekow Heimer’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In