Thursday, March 17, 2011

Big holes in Alaska not needed

This is the first time I've agreed to post something by another writer on my this blog, but it feels OK. I'm a little flattered that someone wants to use my platform. Nicholas is an aspiring environmental journalist, and Alaska could use more of them to, well, keep Alaska Alaska. How would it feel if history books referred to Alaska as "that state with the big hole in the ground where the fish used to be so abundant."

And for what? To make some rich folks even richer in a world awash in metals, but sorely lacking in untainted food? Look up the FAO and WHO CODEX program. Where is the overriding necessity for changing the way Alaska will be looked at from now on. The acid test should be whether proponents of Pebble Mine are willing to put their names and their family's names on a huge bronze plaque alongside the miles wide hole in the ground out in Western Alaska.

The Pebble Mine and Its Consequences

by Nicholas Scott

Right now, Alaskans are facing one of the most crucial decisions in their state’s environmental history. The Pebble Mine prospect in the Bristol Bay region of Southwest Alaska gravely endangers not only the entire Bristol Bay watershed ecosystem, but it could also have equally damaging effects on one of the area’s strongest economies by killing off the salmon runs and decimating the charter fishing industry.

The mine prospect is aimed at excavating an extremely large porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposit. Unfortunately, the plan involves impounding large amounts of mine contaminated water, waste rock, and environmentally toxic mine tailings in one of Alaska’s richest and most biodiverse ecosystems.

Proponents of the Pebble Mine argue that the environmental risks involved with the mine are well-worth the economic trade-off. They claim it will significantly increase state tax revenue, create high-paying jobs, and provide domestic resources of raw materials that the US currently relies on foreign sources for. However, it’s highly debatable whether or not the mine would even provide significant tax revenue to the state, seeing as Alaska’s tax structure allows for mining to return only 1.5% of its resource value to the state. Furthermore, if Bristol Bay’s salmon runs become contaminated, it could have disastrous consequences for some of the largest industries in the area: commercial and charter fishing. This would seriously damage Southwest Alaska’s economy and endanger a huge number of jobs for native Alaskans. A majority of the high-paying jobs provided by the mining are likely to be given to out-of-state workers who are already trained and employed by Anglo-American PLC, the company who will own and operate the mine.

Anglo-American PLC’s environmental track record is another reason why Alaskans ought to be dead set against allowing the Pebble Mine to open. Not only does mining itself have an abysmal record for releasing toxins into headwaters (76% of all modern large hard rock metal mines similar to the Pebble Mine have fallen below quality water standards), Anglo-American PLC has an atrocious record itself. Anglo-American PLC has been severely criticized for worker safety, public health, and environmental problems at their mines across the world. In South Africa, Anglo-American PLC has been involved in mesothelioma cancer lawsuits for exposing their workers to dangerous levels of asbestos, a toxic material. If a company is brash enough to expose its workers to the risk of one of the deadliest cancers (the average mesothelioma life expectancy is under two years), then there is no reason to believe that they will be concerned with the public health concerns of contaminating Bristol Bay. In fact, Anglo-American PLC has already demonstrated their commitment to the environmental and public health around Bristol Bay by nearly wiping out the world’s largest stockeye salmon fishery by attempting to build a massive dam at its headwaters.

It’s clear that proponents of the Pebble Mine are overstating the short-term economic benefits and understating the significant environmental risks that Anglo-American PLC operating a large hard rock metal mine poses to the pristine environment of Bristol Bay.

N. Scott is a health, safety, and political advocate with a great passion for environmental conservation. He is a recent college graduate and an aspiring journalist who currently resides in the South East United States.