EPA releases final assessment of potential impacts of mining on Bristol Bay

Research indicates severe consequences for environment and native tribes

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Caitlin Rockett

A new report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emphasizes the negative impacts that large-scale gold and copper mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could have on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and Alaska’s native cultures.

“Over three years, EPA compiled the best, most current
science on the Bristol Bay watershed to understand how large-scale mining could
impact salmon and water in this unique area of unparalleled natural resources,”
Dennis McLerran, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10, said in a press
release.

The EPA assessed potential environmental impacts to the
Bristol Bay watershed using mining scenarios based on preliminary plans
submitted by Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. Depending on the size of the mine,
the agency estimates up to 94 miles of salmon-supporting streams and as much as
5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes would be destroyed.

The proposed Pebble Mine would tap into the world’s largest
known undeveloped copper ore deposit, which is located in the headwaters of two
of the eight major rivers that feed Bristol Bay.

The report provides no policy recommendations or regulatory
decisions and is meant to act as a guide for the EPA’s response to tribes and
others who petitioned the agency in 2010 to protect Bristol Bay under the Clean
Water Act.