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Taryn Kiekow Heimer’s Blog

Salmon Fever!

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Posted January 26, 2011

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The President's quip about salmon in last night's State of the Union has hooked the nation.  Trying to draw attention to the layers of federal regulation, President Obama said "the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”

Hooked, Americans responded: my colleague at NRDC blogged, Earthjustice issued a press release, and NPR listeners summed up the State of the Union in a word: salmon.

While the nation focuses on salmon, I feel compelled to write about a horrific threat to their survival -- Pebble Mine.  Pebble is a massive gold and copper mine proposed at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska.  Based on current ore projections, Pebble Mine is expected to be the largest mine in North America.  Proposals call for an open pit 2.5 miles wide and 2,000 feet deep, an underground mine 5,000 feet deep and over 10 BILLION tons of mining waste laced with toxic chemicals. 

As former Alaska Governor Jay Hammond said to the Washington Post, "I cannot imagine a worse place for a mine of this type, unless it was in my kitchen." That's because Bristol Bay is home to the world's largest remaining wild salmon fishery.  The 10 billion tons of toxic waste Pebble Mine will generate -- spread over 10 square miles and held behind colossal earthen dams -- would have to be stored forever above America's last salmon stronghold. 

Wild salmon has been the lifeblood of the area for thousands of years, and still is today.  Pebble Mine would threaten the $450 million per year fishery economy, as well as the fishermen, Alaska Natives and wildlife that depend on salmon.  

If Americans care about salmon, we should also care about Pebble Mine.  It's simply the wrong mine, in the wrong place.  Click here to say no to Pebble Mine.

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Scott ThorsonJan 27 2011 05:33 PM

As usual the radical environmentalists never let the facts get in the way of a good story. The mine has not been designed yet. Nobody yet knows if it will be a surface mine, an underground mine or a combination of the two. A waste rock plan has not been developed yet.

There are literally hundreds of river miles between the site of the proposed mine and Bristol Bay. The watershed the proposed mine site sits in represents about 1.5% of the total watershed of the Bristol Bay.

Besides that, the President wasn't talking about mining, he was talking about how insanely complicated the regulatory environment is in this country. We need to get real as a country and start making stuff happen instead of always trying to shut down every project that comes along.

Tim BristolJan 27 2011 08:28 PM

Scott: There are plans that were filed with the State of Alaska when they applied for water withdrawal permits. That is what we have to go on and the plan is terrible.

As for the hundreds of river miles, I cannot figure what you are talking about. A recent technical report by the Nature Conservancy shows that if there was a catastrophic breach of a tallings dam, it would reach Bristol Bay.

The point is ,the nasty stuff runs downriver and the salmon run up them to spawn, including in some cases, right in and around where Anglo American has its drill rigs.

As for getting real and making stuff happen, protecting a fishery that provides thousands of jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in income and delicious, pure food for the world is as real as it gets.

Daniel R. CobbJan 27 2011 11:26 PM

Scott: Plans filed include a massive open-pit leach mine. These very words describe an environmental disaster in the making. 89% of all open pit leach mines spill leachate, heavy metals, sufuric acid, arsenic, into the watershed. Aside from BP Oil Disaster, open pit mines are responsible for the worst environmental disasters in the world. The Aurul Mining leachate disaster in Europe killed hundreds of miles of the Danube River. HUNDREDS OF MILES, and was declared the worst disaster since Chernobyl by Romanian officials. Pebble will the largest such operation in the Western Hemisphere. What more do you need to know? Do you understand? Pebble Mine will one day be exhausted. Unpoisoned, Bristol Bay will give its treasure forever.

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