It's hard to overstate the victory sportsmen and other environmentalists had over the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay last week, when the Environmental Protection Agency released its assessment on the impact that proposed operation would have on the treasured ecosystem. This headline from The Washington Post gives a succinct summary of that assessment: EPA: Mining would destroy fishery, villages, part of watershed in Alaska's Bristol Bay.
Of course that's what sportsmen, hunting and fishing lodge owners, environmental groups, commercial fishermen, and Native American organizations have been saying in the long struggle to keep this tragedy from happening. One of Earth's most productive and still pristine ecosystems would be placed in mortal danger if this project ever went forward.
It hasn't been an easy fight. Like most environmental issues today, some have tried to turn this into a political litmus test for elected officials, especially in Congress. Republicans there typically support the mine, while Democrats oppose it.
But as with most of these fights, the coalition of ordinary citizens pushing to protect fish and wildlife habitat could not be so easily stereotyped. They don't see red or blue ideology when their traditions are threatened, they see the practical, long-term outcome of the decision. In this case, allowing this mine to go forward would clearly have terrible long-term consequences for fish, wildlife, and the state.
Today they can rejoice that a scientific study supported their contentions.
Northern Dynasty Mining, the company that wants to dig, said the EPA report is flawed, and contends the report was bad news for the economy because it estimates the cooper and gold resting there could amount to $500 billion.
But that argument is easily countered. That one-time gain of $500 billion could ruin the engine that drives a perpetually renewable resource.
As resounding a win this report is for sportsmen, the fight is not over yet.
The idea of the Pebble Mine--and the threat to this irreplaceable resource--remains alive unless the EPA issues regulations killing it. But as the Washington Post reported:
Dennis McLerran, administrator for the regional EPA office that oversees the watershed, said the agency is unwilling to take that step. "We have not yet made any decisions with respect to regulatory actions," he said in a conference call with reporters.
Sportsmen should be asking Mr. McLerran this: If your agency says the mine would destroy a fishery, villages, and part of watershed, what are you waiting for?
They should send the same question to their elected officials.
If logic prevails, this report should be a kill shot for the Pebble Mine.