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OPINION: Alaskans thank EPA

August 15th, 2014 | By Alannah Hurley Print this article   Email this article  

Times are good right now in Bristol Bay. Our nets are wet, our smokehouses are hot, and our freezers are full. Once again, we are wrapping up the annual harvest of salmon; enjoying what our ancestors have done since time immemorial.

As we wind down this successful fishing season, there is another reason to feel good: The recent proposal by EPA to protect the waters of Bristol Bay. EPA's proposal has given us a sense of cautious optimism that, for the first time in over a decade, the dark cloud cast by the Pebble Mine is being lifted.

Thankfully, we're not alone in feeling this relief. According to a poll released back in June, 62 percent of Alaskans oppose the Pebble Mine. Over the course of the last decade, thousands of Alaskans have joined our tribes in agreeing that Bristol Bay is a unique, precious place that is worth protecting. And after the recent mine disaster in Canada, it is obvious that a mine at the headwaters of the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery is a risk that we simply cannot afford.

We're thankful to the EPA for publishing its proposed protections in the face of threats from our industry-favoring elected officials. Sen. Lisa Murkowski recently released a statement claiming that EPA's proposal denies Alaskans "the ability to make decisions" about developing a "healthy economy." Her statement ignores the fact that Bristol Bay's communities already have a healthy economy — the $1.5 billion dollar commercial and sport fishery that makes our region unlike any other in the world.

Unfortunately, Gov. Sean Parnell joins Sen. Murkowski in the effort to push forward a Pebble-friendly future for Bristol Bay. Since EPA's announcement, Governor Parnell hired former Pebble spokesman Ben Mohr as Alaska's State Fisheries Advisor, in spite of the fact Mr. Mohr has no prior practical or academic background in fisheries management. What's clear to the Bristol Bay region is that the threat to our future does not come from so-called "federal overreach" by the EPA, it comes from our own elected leaders here in Alaska.

The tragic news from our neighbors in British Columbia reinforces our appreciation for EPA's proposal and our resolve to see permanent protections for Bristol Bay put into place. Last week, a breach in the earthen dam at the Mount Polley Mine sent millions of tons of toxic tailings-infused water into three major salmon bearing waterways — including tributaries of the legendary Fraser River.

We grieve for the citizens of the Fraser River and their loss of their livelihoods, their fresh drinking water, and their salmon streams. The Mount Polly Mine disaster hits especially close to home, as the Pebble Limited Partnership has touted Mount Polley as the best example of safe metallic sulfide mining adjacent to salmon habitat. PLP even hired the same engineering firm as Mount Polly to design Pebble's earthen dam.

For the first time in a long time, things are looking up in Bristol Bay. We are looking forward to sharing our thoughts with EPA when senior agency officials travel to Bristol Bay this week. The people of Bristol Bay value our salmon, our culture, and our sustainable economy. We want to see it protected into the future. We want to see this type of mining stopped in our watershed. We hope that anyone who cares about protecting Bristol Bay will continue to support our efforts to protect and preserve our way of life, our jobs, and our future.

Alannah Hurley is Executive Director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. UTBB is a tribal consortium working to protect their traditional way of life and the Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale metallic sulfide mining.


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