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Bristol Bay, Alaska An Environmental Gem One Step Closer to Protection
By Holly Testa, Director, Shareowner Engagement

The Keystone pipeline may be the headline grabbing environmental fight of the decade, but it is by no means the only one. Pristine Bristol Bay, the easternmost arm of the Bering Sea, has been the focus of another long struggle.

The proposed Pebble Mine, which would be the largest ever open pit mine in North America and boast tailings piles exceeding 600 feet, has pitted corporate mining interests against a diverse coalition of concerned activists. These activists seek to protect the thriving, but fragile, Bristol Bay ecosystem that boasts one of the most productive salmon fisheries left in the world.

In what the New York Times is calling “A Reprieve for Bristol Bay,” the EPA made a long hoped-for announcement that they have initiated the “404(c) process” under the Clean Water Act. This four-step process will lead to a determination of whether the mining operations can discharge waste into the area, and if so, where and how much. In the meantime, the Army Corps of Engineers cannot issue a permit for fill-in of wetlands or streams associated with mining the Pebble deposit.

This decision follows the release of the final EPA assessment. “Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “It’s why EPA is taking this step forward in our effort to ensure protection for the world’s most productive salmon fishery from the risks it faces from what could be one of the largest open pit mines on earth.”

The EPA received a remarkable 850,000+ requests from “…citizens, tribes, Alaska Native corporations, commercial and sports fishermen, jewelry companies, seafood processors, restaurant owners, chefs, conservation organizations, members of the faith community, sport recreation business owners, elected officials and others…”  asking it to take action to protect Bristol Bay.

Trillium Asset Management and Calvert Investments led a coalition representing over $100 billion in investment assets that added to this collective voice. Over the course of three years, the coalition provided comments to the EPA and others expressing concerns about large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region and voicing its support for the science-based EPA Bristol Bay Assessment Process. The coalition also urges Rio Tinto, a large stakeholder in the proposed mine, to re-examine its participation in the face of the growing risks and costs.

 

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Posted: April 2, 2014