Last week’s proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the mining of the pebble deposit in Alaska’s Bristol Bay will not stop other attempts to mine what is one of the world’s premier salmon habitats.
The EPA has said that its veto will only affect mining the pebble deposit ‘within specifically defined areas of the watershed that could have adverse affects on salmon fishery areas.‘ The action does not apply to any other mine deposits or projects elsewhere in Alaska.
EPA says it is vetoing the project because it would result in four ‘unacceptable adverse effects’ on aquatic life and habitat, including the loss of salmon habitat and negative effects on the genetic diversity of salmon.
“The EPA understands the need for sustainable use, development and protection of Alaska’s natural resources, which are key to supporting healthy communities and a thriving economy,” said EPA regional administrator Casey Sixkiller.
Mining industry stakeholders had previously feared the veto would be an obstacle to mining the entirety of the 40,000 square mile watershed, and potentially the whole of Alaska.
The plan, submitted by Pebble LP and its backer, Northern Dynasty Minerals, specifically affected three watersheds, the South and North Forks of the Koktuli River and the Upper Talarik Creek, where it would permanently damage 99 miles of stream habitat and more than 2,000 acres of wetlands.
The veto is limited to certain headwaters of those watersheds, and includes approximately 309 square miles surrounding the plan. There are other mine claims within that restricted area, but the veto is clear that the restriction only applies to mining the pebble deposit.
Alaskan politicians recognise the need for mining in the area and many other projects are in the exploration stage in determining the feasibility of mining mineral reserves in Bristol Bay.
Opponents of the pebble mine are aware of the veto’s limits. “I would say that this is a great step forward, but this is in no way a victory yet,” said Alannah Hurley, Executive Director for United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “We are going to need further action in the future.”
Nelli Williams, Alaska Programme Director for fisheries conservation group Trout Unlimited, was ‘really happy‘ with the EPA’s proposal to stop the pebble mine, but said that it leaves room for more action to truly protect the area from new mines.