This week, as one of her first priorities as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, administrator Gina McCarthy is coming to Alaska to visit Bristol Bay. This trip demonstrates the urgency of the decisions that hang in the balance in our state. On behalf of Bristol Bay Native Corp., I am encouraged at this sign that the administrator takes so seriously the need to listen to Bristol Bay stakeholders about their views on the proposed Pebble mine.
The question she must soon answer is whether one of the world's largest copper-gold-molybdenum mines could be responsibly developed and operated amid the spawning grounds of one of the world's largest runs of wild salmon.
Over the course of her career, McCarthy has worked on many complex environmental issues with support from industry and communities, and from across the political and ideological spectrum. She is no stranger to divisive issues, and we are confident she has what it takes to make timely and fully informed decisions.
The EPA is studying the Nushagak and Kvichak drainages in Bristol Bay because federally recognized tribes and Native organizations, including Bristol Bay Native Corp., asked the agency to use its Clean Water Act authority to protect local resources from inappropriate large-scale hard-rock mining development. EPA responded with the science-based Watershed Assessment to better understand the environment around the Pebble deposit and potential impacts of its development. Well over 90 percent of people from the region who participated support EPA's efforts as do over 70 percent of Alaskans in general.
The Bristol Bay commercial fishery is a $1.5 billion-a-year industry providing thousands of jobs to Bristol Bay residents and producing almost half the world's sockeye salmon. Nearly all residents subsist on fish and game. The Alaska Natives who live here are among the world's last intact, sustainable salmon-based cultures. Their continuation depends on the region's landscape and resources.
BBNC is a multi-billion-dollar Alaska Native corporation with a 41-year history of responsible development that represents and advocates for more than 9,300 shareholders. It represents the economic, social and cultural interests of Bristol Bay.
BBNC does not oppose development. We work in construction, oil and gas, and recently signed a mineral exploration agreement to assess hard-rock mineral resources on the Alaska Peninsula. We firmly believe that there are places in Bristol Bay where development can and should happen, and we know the proposed Pebble mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay is a really bad idea. BBNC believes there are performance standards the EPA can use to protect Bristol Bay from the threats posed by large-scale mines like Pebble. These standards include:
• Prohibit discharges into salmon habitat
• Prohibit discharges of toxic material failing to meet Alaska water quality standards
• Prohibit discharges requiring treatment in perpetuity
Although some argue the EPA's scientific assessment of the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds and potential impacts to those watersheds from large-scale mining is "hypothetical," it's crucial to note that data from Northern Dynasty Minerals, a 50-percent partner in Pebble Limited Partnership, is the backbone of the EPA's analysis. The mining scenarios in the Watershed Assessment were based on water rights applications Northern Dynasty filed with the State of Alaska and a 2011 technical report Northern Dynasty commissioned to assess the economic value of the deposit that it promoted to its shareholders and filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Regardless of how much Pebble Limited Partnership tries to distance the mining plans it ultimately releases to the public, what cannot possibly change is the size, location, and means of extraction for the Pebble deposit.
Appropriately protecting Bristol Bay's resources is an issue of national importance. McCarthy's visit to Bristol Bay and the EPA's continued involvement shows their commitment to listening to all opinions and understanding the Pebble debate. McCarthy's visit will confirm for her that protection of Bristol Bay and its fisheries must remain a top priority for EPA. On this issue, like no other, the majority of Alaskans stand behind them.
Jason Metrokin is president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corp.