Compass:Murkowski should stand up for Bristol Bay, not try to hobble EPA

Gov. Sean Parnell's House Bill 77 proved to be very unpopular Alaska wide, yet at the national level Sen. Lisa Murkowski is now supporting similar policy and siding with corporate interests over everyday Alaskans.

Murkowski is co-sponsoring SB2156, a bill that limits the EPA's ability to protect even our most precious watersheds, our world renowned fisheries, and, for many of us, our very way of life.

This bill directly undermines a Clean Water Act process EPA has initiated that was requested by tribal governments of Bristol Bay, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, and commercial and sport fishing interests in Alaska. Alaskans petitioned the EPA to use its authority to protect our clean water and wild salmon in Western Alaska because they had nowhere else to turn after a series of heavy-handed interventions by the State of Alaska that paved the way for development of mines like Pebble and ignored local concerns.

EPA's response to our request was to pain-stakingly conduct a three-year scientific study to determine the potential effects of mining on Bristol Bay's unique ecosystems. These studies were accompanied by two rounds of extensive peer review and over one million comments submitted by the public throughout the process with 84 percent of comments by Alaskans in support of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. Thousands of Alaskans weighed in supporting Clean Water Act protection for our unique salmon resource.

So, what is it that our state elected officials do not understand? Are they blind to our wishes and deaf to the voices of their constituents? They do not seem to grasp the economics of an intact fishery that supports over 14,000 jobs and generates over $1.5 billion in annual revenue. They also don't seem to value a sport fishery that is truly priceless and the envy of the world. For those of us living in Bristol Bay who have lived from our pristine land for thousands of years, our rivers are a store right outside our door. The health of the land and water is worth more in the long-term than any number of Pebble mines; it is directly tied to the health of our people, our cultures, and our communities.

It is not in the best interest of our state, or those of us who depend on a vibrant and healthy fishery, to continue to put roadblocks in the way of protecting this valuable resource, one that will continue to support future generations if it is protected as the whole and healthy fishery it has been for thousands of years. It's time for our politicians to say what they mean. Saying the process is not complete or that they want to see it through is a cop-out. The science is clear, and they can't have it both ways when it comes to Bristol Bay. You are either pro-Pebble or pro-salmon. Gov. Parnell, Sen. Murkowski, do you favor a foreign mining conglomerate over Alaskans?

Congress should reject SB 2156, and keep the Clean Water Act intact. Section 404c of the act has been applied very infrequently, only 13 times in the last 40 years. It has only been used in cases where something very unique is threatened, such as what we are lucky enough to have here -- a one-of-a-kind fishery, the last of its kind on the face of the planet.

Our fishery consistently produces between 30-40 million sockeye a year, providing over half of the nation's wild sustainable salmon. In the case of Bristol Bay, the Clean Water Act will help protect the last great salmon cultures in the world; it will protect thousands of jobs, and protect sustainable Alaskan commercial and sport fisheries. It also works to maintain what makes our state unique -- clean water and still-intact river systems.

Greg Andrew is a former member of the Levelock Village Council, one of the original tribes to request EPA intervention to protect the Bristol Bay watershed. He is also on the executive committee of United Tribes of Bristol Bay.