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Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay Region Threatens a Sustainable Economy
Press Release

RELEASE: Mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay Region Threatens a Sustainable Economy

Washington, D.C. – Today, in anticipation of the upcoming closing of the comment period on EPA’s draft watershed assessment of the Bristol Bay region, the Center for American Progress released a report that outlines the value of this pristine area to the American economy and calls for the release of a final watershed assessment that clearly delineates areas that should remain off-limits to potentially harmful development.

The battle lines are being drawn for what is becoming one of America’s largest natural-resources fights in decades, pitting the mining industry against defenders of a way of life and an economy that are inextricably linked to one of the United States’ most intact and productive ecosystems.

The report finds:

  • Bristol Bay is an outstanding example of a sustainable economy that directly depends on a healthy ecosystem.
  • The region is the location of America’s most important salmon fishery, which according to the University of Alaska supports the equivalent of nearly 10,000 full-time American jobs and $1.5 billion in economic output, as well as the way of life and culture of the region’s Alaska Native communities.
  • These jobs and sustainable economy could be put at risk by mining proposals.
  • The proposed Pebble Project is furthest along in the process, and would be one of the world’s largest open-pit mines.
  • Even under normal mining operations (absent an accident or disaster), the Pebble Project will likely have major impacts on the area, including the destruction of streams and wetlands, acid mine drainage, and the construction of huge containment structures to hold toxic tailings that will last in perpetuity.

“The federal government has a responsibility to make well-reasoned decisions, grounded in the best scientific data available, when determining how to manage America’s natural resources,” said Michael Conathan, Director at the Center for American Progress. “When assessing the Bristol Bay region, it’s necessary to ensure minimal harm to the environment and to existing economic activity, and provide industries with clarity about what may or may not be permitted.”

CAP recommendations:

  • The EPA should finalize its watershed assessment as soon as possible, so that policymakers have a sound scientific basis for future natural-resource management decisions and have the data they need to protect the region’s fisheries and economy.
  • In the final version of the watershed assessment, the EPA should identify any areas that are too sensitive to serve as mining-waste dumps because they are essential to maintaining the health of the salmon-based ecosystem and the jobs that depend on it. This would provide certainty to both mining companies and the fishing industry.

Mining in the Bristol Bay region, and particularly the proposed Pebble Project, presents an unusually stark choice between two different paths of natural-resources development: the extraction of finite hard-rock minerals and a sustainable economy based on a valuable renewable resource—salmon. Thousands of jobs in fishing and tourism, as well as the traditional way of life for the region’s native communities, hang in the balance.

Read the report: Mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay Region Threatens a Sustainable Economy by Jessica Goad, Shiva Polefka, Michael Conathan, and Christy Goldfuss

To speak with a CAP expert, please contact Anne Shoup at [email protected] or 202.481.7146.