SOURCE: EcoWatch and Alaska Public Media

DATE: June 1, 2020

SNIP: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrote a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers last week to say that it would not oppose or put a stop to a huge copper and gold mine near the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, as The Washington Post reported.

The Pebble Mine, a vast copper and gold deposit, is worth an estimated $500 billion in natural resources. However, it is in the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska, a resource that brings in $1.5 billion annually and provides a vital food source for thousands of Alaska Native residents who live there, according to PBS. An effort to build the mine at the heart of the Bristol Bay watershed has been an ongoing fight in Alaska.

The project was seemingly dead in 2012, but it got a new lease on life with the Trump administration when the Pebble Partnership filed for a permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in late 2017. The EPA has raised many concerns about the project, saying that it may result in substantial and unacceptable impacts to “aquatic resources of national importance,” as Alaska Public Media reported.

In response, the Army Corps of Engineers announced what that the least damaging way to bring the ore out of the mine would be to take it out around the north side of Lake Iliamna, according to Alaska Public Media.

Christopher Hladick, the EPA’s regional administrator for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, wrote to the Alaska district engineer, Col. David Hibner, that the agency’s serious concerns about the plan continued. He noted that the concerns include the fact that dredging for the open pit mine “may well contribute to the permanent loss of 2,292 acres of wetlands and … 105.4 miles of streams,” as The Washington Post reported.

The EPA will still have the authority to veto the project, but the latest letter makes it unlikely to do so.

While the Army Corps of Engineers has said the mine will have minimal impact on the salmon, environmental groups strongly disagree.

“It’s about four times larger than the largest mine the EPA said that it was willing to consider for permitting,” said Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council, to PBS. “The notion that the contaminants can be contained in any reliable fashion in that kind of environment has never been proven, never been tested, and in the judgment of virtually any independent scientist, simply can’t be done.”