EPA comes to help; Pebble advocates attack

Photo courtesy Clark James Mishler

With all the news and commotion about the Environmental Protection Agency study of the Bristol Bay Watershed and potential massive-scale mining in the area, some important points need to be considered. I am personally very thankful for the efforts of the EPA in listening to the overwhelming majority of Bristol Bay residents who requested protection of our watershed. EPA's studies are at our request because our own state government has ignored, minimized or swept under the rug years of water violations, fuel spills, wetlands abuse and drilling violations.

I have tried to listen well to the science and professional people discussing the Pebble prospect over the past eight or 10 years. None of the people I have talked to believe this deposit in this location can be developed under any plan without seriously damaging our fishery, land, water, environment or way of life.

The most recent EPA process, the peer review of the watershed assessment, was supposed to be about science. The mine advocates had very little science but many attacks for EPA, who came to help us. The panel's 12 independent science professionals supported the watershed assessment and pointed out additional reasons that EPA's review is likely a conservative underestimate of the probable negative impacts of massive mine development in the watershed. Even some of the reviewers seemed at times sucked into the repeated political opinions.

I am not amused by political double talk. How can Pebble tell us they have no plan when they have used a detailed plan since 2006 to hold priority for rights to all of the water in the mine area? They have paid for and filed with stock market regulators multiple detailed plans and they have told their shareholders they have 10.8 billion tons of mineable ore. Are they telling the truth to their shareholders, the regulators, or to us?

Now we read and hear about Outside congressmen from California and Georgia attacking and threatening EPA for listening to us. We are dependent on salmon and clean water for every part of our life, culture and economy. We are very afraid of these foreign corporations and their influence on our government.

Our area legislators -- Senate President Gary Stevens, Senate Finance Co-chair Lyman Hoffman, House Majority Leader Alan Austerman and Rep. Bryce Edgmon -- all joined us in asking for and supporting EPA action to protect Bristol Bay. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that other politicians from far away are willing to risk our fisheries and the 14,000 jobs that depend on them for a few short-term jobs or political rhetoric.

Again, thank you, EPA, from the majority of Alaskans, from the overwhelming majority of Bristol Bay residents, from the unanimous legislative delegation from Bristol Bay and from people all over the world who are learning how very much is at stake here.

Bella Hammond is a former first lady of Alaska, wife of Gov. Jay Hammond. Born and raised in Bristol Bay, she lives on Lake Clark in the family home.