Rapala issued a statement today: “Alaska’s Nushagak River system holds the largest run of king salmon on the planet. A British mining conglomerate wants to build Pebble Mine, the world’s largest open-pit gold mine at its headwaters. If you don’t want to trade Alaska’s king salmon for foreign company profit, you can learn how to fight the plan at www.RenewableResourcesCoalition.org. British Mining conglomerate Anglo-American and its partners plan includes a 10-square-mile lake of toxic waste laced with sulphuric acid, industrial chemicals, and heavy metals. One strong earthquake or gradual leaching over time could make the world’s best fishery no more than a memory, ruining Bristol Bay as well.”
Obviously, Rapala sees it has a stake in the future of fishing around Bristol Bay. And why not? When the fish are gone, who buys lures? More importantly, who will come visit? Who will fill the resorts, motels, restaurants, and stores? What happens to the economy of any town or region when pollution reigns and the fish are dead?
Rapala isn’t speaking out against mining, and neither am I. But I agree that we need to stop this kind of “modern” mining technique altogether, and the sooner the better. Instead of going underground, with miners, and slowly taking minerals from the earth at a fair profit, modern mining conglomerates replace thousands of miners with gigantic machines that literally nuke areas many square miles in size, leaving gaping holes and toxic lakes in the earth, in order to make massive profits almost instantaneously. In evidence: The heavy, road-crushing machinery used in “modern” mountain-top-removal coal mining in Appalachia eliminated a potential 600,000 mining jobs. The technique literally levels mountains, poisons local water supplies, and buries trout streams. According to the EPA, mountain-top removal has buried around 4000 miles of trout stream since George W. Bush revived this horrific mining practice with a stroke of his pen. When the coal is gone, so are the jobs. And the mountain. Local taxpayers are left with the burden of cleaning up the mess, replacing the lost jobs, and repairing the roads, while the usual tax engines of local commerce and tourism are left in tatters.
But they can’t rebuild the mountain. The tourism it represented, the streams it created, and the wildlife it supported, are gone forever. As the salmon of Bristol Bay almost assuredly will be if the Pebble Mine is given a green light.
One of the tactics Big Mining uses to secure Big Profits is to simply leave without fulfilling the promise to clean up hazardous wastes. One partner in the proposed Bristol Bay project would be Rio Tinto, which left a trail of toxic post-mining sites from Bolivia to Indonesia. The New York Times reported that the Rio Tinto Grasberg Mine in Papua—another joint venture, and the largest gold mine in the world—left 90 square miles of wetlands “virtually buried in mine waste.” The Environment Ministry there reports almost all fish have disappeared from the wetlands and surrounding waterways they support.
Another partner would be Anglo American, which left toxic sites behind in Nevada, Zimbabwe, and South Africa without cleaning up as they promised taxpayers and residents they would—a common ploy among today’s wealthiest mining companies. When the mine removes enough minerals as to make further operation unprofitable, they just close up shop and leave deadly messes behind for taxpayers to deal with. According to the Renewable Resources Commission, the practice is rampant worldwide.
Rapala, in opposing the Pebble Mine, joins over 515 sporting organizations, including Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance, American Sportfishing Association, Trout Unlimited, and Wildlife Forever. Some 513 of these groups signed a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson vilifying the Pebble Mine. The letter urges the EPA “to proactively fulfill its mission to protect the environment and human health in Bristol Bay, AK, by using its authority under Clean Water Act Section 404(c) to withdraw waters and wetlands in the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed from future specification as disposal sites for dredge and fill activity associated with mining operations.”
In addition to these other groups, Rapala joins 80% of the residents of Bristol Bay and over 81% of the Native American residents polled in the region. Majorities of people polled all across the United States are opposed to the mine’s construction, according to Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Almost 1 million petitions have been delivered in opposition to the Pebble Bay Mine. In other words, if the construction of Pebble Mine is allowed, the obvious question arises: Does democracy yet exist in these parts?
Reasons for Rapala and others to oppose this decadent display of open greed are many and none more significant than this: The proposed mining site straddles the Lake Clark Fault, which produced the most powerful earthquake in the history of North America in 1964. The largest of the proposed earthen dams for holding back billions of tons of poisonous waste on the site would dwarf China’s Three Gorges Dam—the largest such structure on earth. The open pit of the mine itself would swallow the Empire State Building.
The mine would need to extract 70 million gallons of fresh water per day from the local environment. That’s one fair-sized lake per day. Plans also clearly call for permanent destruction of over 60 miles of salmon habitat, including the construction of barriers that would stop migrating fish. Published studies on salmon near other mining sites concluded that kings, silvers, and sockeyes cannot successfully spawn in the presence of as little as 2 ppb of copper dust. The mine would require 86 miles of shipping roads wide enough to accomodate monstrous machines taller than 10-story buildings. Plans call for the dredging of Cook Inlet, home of the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales.
When the minerals are gone, so are the jobs. In other words, the 2000 jobs being projected (employment projections from Big Mining are always larger than the actual number employed) are not sustainable, yet the current economy is sustainable: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Bristol Bay generates over $400 million in permanently sustainable salmon fishing revenues, supporting 14,000 jobs directly related to salmon for fishermen, construction workers, packers, canners, boat builders, electronic technology experts, mechanics, and repairmen of all kinds—all sustainable. Sustainable, that is, if this mine is stopped.
Bristol Bay provides the most prolific sockeye-salmon fishery in the world. Those salmon support hundreds of guides, resort owners, small businesses, and all local tourism-related jobs. They provide subsistence fishing for thousands of Native American residents. They are the region’s economic viability, and the region’s future.
Wealth should never be allowed to trump reason, nor be allowed to treat the earth’s salmon fisheries and other permanent treasures as expendable. Once lost, no amount of gold can buy the future back for an entire region of people.
I applaud Rapala’s decision. I hope all anglers do.