Bristol Bay, Alaska
Opposition to the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay is growing to the point that one has to wonder who — outside of the mining companies — could still support the idea of an open-pit mine that would endanger a pristine watershed where tens of millions of salmon spawn each year.
Lydia Olympic, The Wilderness Society’s tribal advocate, works tirelessly to educate indigenous people on the threat of what would be the world’s largest open-pit mine. She recently scored another victory when she attended a conference of the National Tribal Environmental Council and persuaded tribal groups from across the nation to pass a resolution asking the federal government to protect this fragile watershed that is so vital to Alaska Natives who rely on subsistence fishing to feed their families.
The resolution asks the Environmental Protection Agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to prohibit the discharge of dredged or fill material before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can issue permits structured to ensure the protection of traditional subsistence resources used by Alaska Natives. It also nominates Bureau of Land Management lands in the Kvichak and the Nushagak watershed for designation as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.
A company known as the Pebble Limited Partnership hopes to develop the mine roughly 200 miles southwest of Anchorage and just north of Iliamna. Pebble Mine would be the largest open-pit mine in North America, involving the excavation of billions of tons of raw ore containing copper, gold and molybdenum. Toxic runoff from the mine could endanger the largest remaining wild sockeye salmon run in the world, which sustains the world’s richest commercial wild-salmon fishery; the habitat for tens of millions of salmon that spawn in the streams of the Bristol Bay watershed; and the subsistence ways of life of Alaska Natives. While opposition to the mine is strong, mining companies are spending millions of advertising dollars to muster support.
Lydia made a presentation to the NTEC conference that included this video showing what is at stake in the battle for the future of Bristol Bay. In coming weeks, Lydia will be taking the anti-Pebble message to the National Congress of American Indians when it meets in Oregon, and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission during a gathering in Washington state.
The outrageous environmental risk posed by the development of Pebble Mine has inspired opposition not only in Alaska but across the nation, and united sport and subsistence-fishing interests, commercial fishermen and seafood processors, Native groups, former state and federal regulators and elected officials, conservation groups, and even churches.
Lydia’s outreach and education efforts are expanding awareness and increasing opposition to the mine among indigenous groups throughout the United States and beyond.
And the more people learn about Pebble Mine, the harder it will be for Pebble Limited Partnership to devastate Bristol Bay in the name of greed.