Last summer, sportsmen and women from across the country applauded when the Environmental Protection Agency announced advance restrictions on large-scale hard rock mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska. EPA’s actions came after hunters and anglers, concerned about impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine on this hunting and fishing Mecca, joined a wide and diverse coalition to petition the agency for Clean Water Act protections in the region.
While many of us thought this closed the book on Pebble, unfortunately the project is still alive, and its Canadian backers are now engaging in a desperate PR and legal campaign to discredit anyone who questions their plans to mine in Bristol Bay. The sportsmen’s community stands ready to counter their efforts and make it clear to lawmakers what’s really at stake with the Pebble Mine.
It’s not just a bunch of hunters and anglers who are skeptical about the mine. I’m sure a lot of good folks that also oppose the Pebble Mine are less than thrilled with the fact that I’m an avid hunter who can’t wait for my next hunt in Alaska. But, because the stakes are so high, protecting Bristol Bay is something that conservative-minded sportsmen and liberal environmentalists can all agree on.
Home to numerous species of birds, fish, and large land mammals, Bristol Bay is not just a bucket list trip for sportsmen, but a thriving outdoors-based economy for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Sport fishing in Bristol Bay contributes more than $60 million annually to the local fishing economy, which is over $1.5 billion in total. Though remote, 65,000 visitors come to Bristol Bay each year for opportunities to fish, hunt, and view wildlife.
But the Pebble Mine is an existential threat to the region. Pebble, which could be North America’s largest open pit mine, would produce up to 10 billion tons of toxic waste held behind a series of massive and often unstable earthen dams, threatening the salmon and their sensitive habitats that help sustain life in Bristol Bay.
Though EPA has taken the first step to halt the Pebble Mine, the fight is far from over. EPA’s work in Bristol Bay is on hold due to a pending legal case in Alaska – a case all acknowledge is procedural in nature. Yet it appears the Pebble Mine’s backers are using the delay to make spurious claims and wage a multi-faceted campaign to discredit EPA, dragging out the process in the hopes a new administration will take a different view.
The problem is, the facts aren’t on their side. EPA’s actions were based on independent and twice-peer reviewed science, and on a process that never denied a meeting with mine proponents. Moreover, EPA has a well-established authority to place restrictions – not a veto – on development that will have the “unacceptable, adverse impacts” the Clean Water Act is designed to prevent.
Alaskans agree with us about Pebble, too. In November, 65% of the state voted to place additional oversight on mining in the Bristol Bay region. Many of these Alaskans were part of the coalition that asked EPA to get involved in the first place.
Aside from the introduction of a couple of bills that stand little chance of reaching the President’s desk, Congress has stayed relatively silent on the Pebble Mine. As well they should; better to let science, not politics, decide the fate of Bristol Bay.
But as supporters’ recent tactics show, their fundamentally flawed proposal is still alive.
My organization – the Dallas Safari Club – recently joined with other hunting and angling groups to urge Congressional leaders to support Bristol Bay and protect one of the world’s true sportsmen’s paradises. Sportsmen and women from around the country are joining us in asking Congress to let EPA finish the work it started nearly five years ago.
We hope others will also continue to make their voices heard, as they have for years, on this critical conservation issue. The future of one of America’s great hunting and fishing destinations lies in the balance.
Carter is the executive director of the Dallas Safari Club.