In the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, a quiet little battle over the proposed Pebble Mine has been raging for the last 20 years or so. It’s one that is just now gaining national attention, based solely on the fact that the EPA stepped in and did their jobs. Now, the fact that they may have done their jobs outside the bounds of their very own rules might have something to do with the attention, but that depends on which side of the argument you are on.
Now, if you’ve been following my articles, generally any time a 3-letter government agency is in the news, I poise myself like a bull staring down a little Spanish guy with a red sheet. I’m not some crazy anti-government survivalist gun-nut living in a shack in the hills or anything, I just primarily write about controversial subjects. Thankfully government agencies provide great material. My problem here is that while I usually make an attempt to slam agencies like the FDA and EPA in a fashion that resembles a Suplex from the top rope in a Wrestle Mania event, I can’t help but agree with the EPA on this one … and it’s making me feel weird. It’s like a well-meaning, yet slightly too intimate, creepy hug from a stranger.
Right now the Pebble mine is nothing but an idea. In 2001, Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd. started an exploration program that continued to operate for over 10 years. They estimate that there is upwards of 300 billion dollars of gold, copper and other minerals just waiting to be ripped from the earth. The proposed mine would be an open pit hole 2-3 miles wide and several thousand feet deep. Now, even with the greenest of mining activities, the Pebble mine would create an estimated 10 billion tons of waste rock that would be stored permanently in one of 2 wastewater lakes that would have to be built. Note: Permanently Stored. Then, there are the hundreds of miles of roads that would have to be built to support the mine. Also, there would be hundreds of miles of pipelines to be built to pump water and waste.
Now the issue a lot of the supporters of the mine, or “pro-pebblers” as I like to call them, revolve around the economic impacts of the mine. The pro-pebblers claim that the building of the mine would create 15,000 permanent jobs and inject billions of dollars into an economic region where a gallon of milk costs an average of 10 dollars. 300 billion in estimated assets in the ground is a pretty convincing argument. Especially to a community who’s economic growth mirrors that of most third-world countries. I, for one, am usually a proponent of injecting money into such communities.
The people that are against the Pebble mine project, or the “non-pebblers” as I will call them, claim that the impact to the environment isn’t worth the rewards of the estimated economic growth. The non-pebblers point out the fact that the Bristol Bay region is the largest salmon fishery on the planet and the communities there are built around the fishing industry, not mining. The destructive nature of the mine is a little more than just conjecture, considering the effects of open pit mining are apparent all over the globe. Even in the face of green mining promises, the non-pebblers are pointing to facts, not ideas.
Whichever side you agree with, the EPA has pretty much made the decision for you. In a preemptive strike, they enacted a section of the “Clean Water Act” from 1972 and shut down even the potential for mining permits. Immediately the pro-pebblers claimed that the EPA had overstepped its bounds and started an appeal/countersuit. Heck, even the EPA came out and said that they were doing an internal investigation to verify the legality of the decision. Yes, investigating their own decision that they made. Now THAT sounds like the EPA I know. Make a judgment and then immediately question it.
No matter how you look at it, this is a real battle of the money versus the planet. The EPA technically stepped up and hit one into the cheap seats as far as environmental protection goes, but then again, isn’t that what the Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to do? Sure, they botched the whole fracking thing, but they got this one right, right? If you are a salmon, you are nodding your little fish head vigorously. If you are an impoverished Alaskan fighting to pay your bills, you are probably not as excited. If you are the planet, you’re probably just waiting quietly for us silly humans to get it together while you plan your next volcanic eruption or super hurricane, just to show us how awesome your might really is …