Our View: Let's be clear - Pebble will kill salmon

EPA and Pebble

Bristol Bay report makes clear that mine would destroy salmon habitat

The final version of the EPA's Bristol Bay Assessment refines what the agency's work concluded before: Development of the Pebble copper and gold prospect will destroy salmon habitat in the headwaters of the richest salmon fishery on Earth.

If Pebble is developed, Alaskans will be trading some salmon for gold and copper. Despite the claims of some, including Gov. Sean Parnell and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, that they would never trade one resource for another, Pebble requires a measure of trade.

The question is, how much salmon would Alaska have to give up, and for what benefits from copper and gold?

The EPA's report makes clear that even routine mining -- without any catastrophic failures -- and its attendant operations on the scale of Pebble would destroy salmon streams, leach contaminants into the surroundings and require exceptional monitoring and vigilance for generations.

Add the probabilities of blocked culverts, pipeline failures and truck accidents in the 86-mile transportation corridor the project would require, and further degradation of salmon habitat occurs.

The EPA grants that it cannot quantify what the percentage loss of the five species of salmon would be, or how much the Bristol Bay runs would be affected. In other words, the assessment can't tell us that a projected mine would kill off a particular percentage of salmon. But when you destroy salmon habitat, it follows that you will cut the salmon population. That's why Alaskans have worked so hard to protect, restore and maintain natural banks on the Kenai River.

Mine supporters have blasted the EPA's work from the beginning. But the Environmental Protection Agency has been doing its job -- a job of assessment that the Parnell administration has shown no inclination to do. Alaskans asked the EPA to intervene to stop Pebble. The agency responded with its three-year assessment to lay out the risks to the fisheries and the people of not only a massive project like Pebble but the possible cumulative effect of other mining prospects in the area.

Critics also have argued that the EPA has no business making up mine scenarios when no mine plan has been advanced and the Pebble Partnership is still working on its permit applications. That argument is disingenuous at best. The EPA used Northern Dynasty's own preliminary mine plans in its assessment, plus what is known about what it takes to mine low-grade ore on a massive scale. Experts in mining, geology, hydrology and fisheries twice vetted the agency's work. EPA is in the ballpark, and Pebble knows it.

Yes, mitigation measures can reduce some risks and loss of habitat. But the fact is that a massive open pit mining operation doesn't fit in some of the headwaters of the richest salmon fishery on Earth.

Pebble will kill salmon. We should clear about that, and not try to cover it with win-win happy talk about mining and fishing going together as if there are no adverse effects.

Dennis McLerran, the EPA's regional administrator who led the assessment, said the agency will soon make policy decisions based on its report. Those could run the gamut from no mine to any number of conditions going forward.

We'll stand by these criteria on the Pebble prospect: With the Bristol Bay fishery and all that it provides at stake, Pebble has the burden of proof to show it can mine while sustaining the fishery and the overall environment. If there's any doubt, the answer to Pebble must be no.

BOTTOM LINE: EPA report makes clear we'll pay for Pebble with salmon.