Opinion: Saving Bristol Bay for Future Generations
The following editorial was written by former Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.).
We live in a time where jobs don’t exactly grow on trees, but in Alaska, it is fair to say that jobs grow on rivers. The Bristol Bay economy is threatened by the prospects of two foreign mining companies seeking to begin mining in the area, and it is up to Alaskans to protect their own economy.
Bristol Bay is legendary for sportsmen from across our great country. The sport fishing industry in Bristol Bay alone generates $65 million annually and supports more than 800 permanent jobs within the local community. Every year more than 60,000 visitors travel to the region for recreational opportunities. They come to absorb the scenic views,
fish, hunt, and study the wildlife. These folks buy plane tickets, stay in local lodging, hire tour guides, purchase gear from local supply stores, and enjoy the local cuisine.
But all of what I have just talked about would be threatened by the creation of the Pebble Mine. The advocates for the mine suggest it will add jobs to the region, but fail to recognize that the mine’s presence could jeopardize an entire industry.
At its core, the issue is simple. The proposed Pebble Mine would be built at the headwaters of two rivers that feed Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska. The site contains a low-grade deposit of gold, copper, and molybdenum. Over its lifetime, the mine could produce up to 10 billion tons of toxic waste, which would be stored forever behind a series of dams in an area prone to earthquakes. If even trace amounts of this waste seep into the Bristol Bay watershed, much of the fishery and other wildlife could be seriously threatened.
The EPA has a rare opportunity to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to issue a narrow 404c ruling to protect local jobs and fishing habitats in Bristol Bay. The agency is currently undergoing a watershed assessment, which will be out in the coming weeks. If the EPA finds that Bristol Bay’s resources would be adversely affected by the enormous scale of the Pebble Mine, it could block the required federal dredge and fill permit.
The dangers posed to Bristol Bay are clear and abundant. Can science and engineering eliminate the risks posed by the Pebble Mine to Alaska’s economy? If the answer is yes, the mine’s backers should show how in a clear and unquestionable manner. If the answer is no, then mining companies shouldn’t be forced to throw away their capital
I support protecting the current Bristol Bay economy and the environment at the same time. If a conservative Republican from North Carolina with a lifetime rating of 11% from the League of Conservation Voters can fight for this issue, I hope you can too!
Robin Hayes is a former Republican Congressman from North Carolina and current Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party. He is frequent visitor to Alaska’s Bristol Bay, where he stays at Brian Kraft’s Alaska Sportsman Lodges. Kraft is one of 40 sportsmen from 17 states in Washington, DC this week to express their support for protecting Bristol Bay and its watershed from the Pebble Mine.