The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will conduct a scientific assessment to understand how large-scale developments, including a proposed gold mine, might affect Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
The agency will assess the site of Pebble Mine, an open-pit mine project proposed by Anglo American and Northern Dynasty Minerals for the headwaters of Bristol Bay, in southwest Alaska.
Zale Corp is among 54 jewelry companies, with a combined $5.75 billion in annual sales, that have pledged not to use gold from the mine.
The assessment will help the EPA to better understand effects on water quality and Alaska’s fishing industry, the agency said. The bay produces hundreds of millions of dollars in annual fishing revenues, according to the EPA.
The EPA said its assessment of the bay is not limited to examining the potential effects of the mining project, but will consider large-scale development in general. Its efforts will focus on those areas of the watershed that are not already protected through their status as wildlife refuges or parks.
The assessment, which will focus primarily on the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds, will be informed by scientific peer review, tribal consultation and federal and state agency participation, as well as public and industry input.
The organizations behind the pledge – Earthworks, the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and the Nunamta Aulukestai alliance of nine Alaska Native village corporations – say the project would be the largest open-pit mine in North America and would threaten the world’s largest wild salmon fishery.
The number of companies on the petition has just topped 50, Earthworks spokeswoman Bonnie Gestring said. “Such a large number of jewelers have never taken a stance on a particular place before,” she said.
“Jostens recognizes that Alaska’s Bristol Bay Watershed is an ecosystem of national and international significance and we support permanent protection of the Bristol Bay Fishery Reserve from large-scale metals mining,” said Richard Stoebe, communications director of class ring maker Jostens.
Other signatories to the pledge include Helzberg Diamonds, Boucheron and John Hardy Jewelry.
The fishermen and native Alaskan tribes have asked the EPA to stop the project through a provision of the Clean Water Act. On Valentine’s Day, the two groups will publish ads on Politico and in The Hill, protesting the project.
The mine’s backers say that it will use responsible mining technologies to support a healthy co-existence with the environment and native culture, and will bring 1,000 operation and 2,000 construction jobs to one of the most economically depressed areas of the country.
Gold will not be the mine’s major product, its backers say. The mine will offer 80.6 billion lbs of copper, 5.6 billion lbs of molybdenum, 107.4 million ounces of gold and commercially significant amounts of silver, rhenium and palladium, the companies said.
Picture credit: Zales