Archive for the ‘Alaska’ Category

Bristol Bay Mine Proposal: A Slurry of Mixed Reactions

Photo by Aconcagua. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Aconcagua. Some rights reserved.

What’s in Alaska? Raymond Carver asked that question in his 1972 short story of the same name, and it sometimes feels like we still ask ourselves that very question down here in the lower 48 when pondering just what exactly is up there. Lots of bears, snow, Sarah Palin, fishing, logging, the Iditarod, rugged individualism, and more bears, right? Well okay, but add to that list a huge, hypothetical goldmine in southeastern Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

Yes, though it’s still only in the planning stage, a buried deposit of planned gold, copper and molybdenum near the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers is already turning heads in Washington. You see, the mine has the potential to (according to the Washington Post) “bring in 80 billion pounds of copper, 107 million ounces of gold, and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum,” but it would also cause the loss of “54 and 89 miles of streams and between four and seven square miles of wetlands” according to an EPA draft assessment from April of this year, and could in addition damage the habitats of the flourishing local salmon population, where nearly half of the world’s current sockeye salmon reside.

Advocates for building the mine (namely, the mining firms behind the project – Northern Dynasty and Anglo American) have been lobbying in Congress for the past decade trying to sway lawmakers over to their side, while many of the nearby Alaskan native tribes have teamed with local fishing companies and environmental groups to oppose the mine. With both sides investing significant amounts of money in lobbying (though between tribal leaders and mining moguls, you can probably guess who has more money to spend), the fight looks like it will end up being a close one (speculators are already eyeing Democratic Alaskan senator Mark Begich, who’s up for re-election in 2014, as a key voice in the matter), with volleys continuing from both sides – opponents have a poll that says 58% of Alaskans oppose the mine, advocates have an economic analysis that claims the mine would create 2,500 construction jobs.

The EPA hopes to finalize their assessment of the project this year, and it sounds like our President will eventually have some say in the matter (especially in the wake of his upcoming decision on Keystone XL, his opposition of the mine could be a strong move in winning over skeptical environmentalists who think he has perhaps gone soft on green issues).

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