Washingtonians should be proud of our congressional delegation for leading the effort to stop development of North America’s largest open-pit mine upstream from Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The copper and molybdenum mine would irreparably damage a 15 million salmon run.
Alaska natives and thousands of commercial fishers and seafood processors in Washington state depend on that southwest Alaska fishery.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed severe restrictions on the proposed mine that may stop it from being developed. Several of the mine’s financial partners have already abandoned the project.
It’s almost impossible to imagine the scope of the proposed mine, yet easy to understand how it could devastate an entire fishery. The EPA said the mine’s pit could be as deep as the Grand Canyon. Its waste could fill CenturyLink Field about 3,900 times. Even without a major accident or spill, the mine would destroy up to 100 miles of salmon spawning streams and about 5,000 acres of wetlands.
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And the likelihood of acidic drainage, caused by disturbing sulfur-bearing ore, could wreak havoc on downstream waters, and eventually the Pacific Ocean.
The EPA is taking public comment until Sept. 19 on its proposed rules for the mine. It’s important for anyone who values the environment to support the EPA.
A credible threat still remains that Republicans in Congress could overturn the EPA rule and allow the mine to go forward. Alaska’s conservative delegation is leading this charge with a bill to stop the EPA rule. And the mine’s owner has sued the EPA for the same purpose.
There’s no chance this legislation will pass the Democratically-controlled U.S. Senate, or survive a presidential veto. But if Republicans gain control of the Senate in this fall’s mid-term elections, there’s no telling what might happen.
Proponents of the mine argue its economic benefits for an area sorely in need of new jobs and financial stimulus. It’s the same argument used in our state for the construction of coal export terminals and fewer restrictions on highly-flammable oil tanker trains.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, responded angrily to a Maryland congresswoman who supported the EPA and opposed the mine. He said the federal government had no right to tell any state what it could or could not do.
“I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit here and watch somebody from Maryland or any other state start telling me or anybody in Alaska how we should be running our state,” Young shouted.
But destroying the environment in Alaska does affect people in Washington state and the rest of the Lower 48, and the ultimately the world. When it comes to protecting this finite, endangered planet, we cannot afford that kind of myopic, short-sighted thinking.