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Hello Alaskans:
Did you know about the meeting last May between the EPA Director and a mining executive that took protections away from your pristine salmon run?

October 11, 2017

A Wood River (Bristol Bay fishery) spawning male sockeye salmon. They get their famously bright red color and hooked nose after returning to freshwater to spawn. Photo courtesy Professor Thomas Quinn, University of Washington.
Chronicle opinion
By Rex D. Cain

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- Should America change the name of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the Environment Degradation Agency?

If you folks in Alaska thought the Trump-Republican administration would be good for your state and your way of life (not to mention your future) brother have you just been dealt a big bowl of hard reality.

It's too bad (in a way) Hollywood's Harvey Wallbanger Weinstein has sucked all the air out of the news business this week because this story deserves to be on the front page of every newspaper in America in big, bold type.

CNN News broke this story last night about an important meeting that happened last May - in a superb piece of reporting by CNN's John D. Sutter and Scott Bronstein - but you'd be hard pressed to know it from reading the early Wednesday bulldogs of most major and minor newspapers in this country.

Even a major newspaper in Anchorage (along with the New York Times and many others) doesn't get it.

On that Anchorage paper front page this morning at 3 am local time: 'Black bear killed after wandering into Anchorage airport post office' and 'My boyfriend's ex was awful -- how can I get his family to stop being friends with her?' Pretty important stuff.

Not a word of that CNN report. So now, Alaska and the rest of the world: here's the real news of the day.

The future of one of the most pristine, irreplaceable wild salmon fisheries anywhere in the world - which is in Alaska - was put into serious, potential jeopardy by Donald Trump's EPA Director Scott Pruitt, according to an exclusive CNN story Tuesday night.

By jeopardy, the story means that world-class 56-million fish run of wild sockeye salmon that each year swims, "Hundreds of miles from the ocean toward the rivers and streams of the Bristol Bay watershed in southwest Alaska," as well as the 14,000 Alaskan jobs (that generate $480 million a year) attached to that run as well as an entire way of life for indigenous Alaskans and newcomers as well.

The Mining Company and the EPA Director

Here's the scoop CNN laid on the world: for more than 15 years, Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian mining company, has fought to build a gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay -- and not just any mine, a behemoth open pit mine about the size of Manhattan Island that scientists say might well be devastating to that watershed and the salmon run.

CNN found out that this spring (in May) the Trump administration's Pruitt took rapid action in just minutes (36 minutes total) after meeting with a mining executive to "make that prospect more likely," by removing federal protections for Bristol Bay.

Pruitt took the action after no review of the year's of hard scientific data on that region and the fishery, according to CNN.

From the CNN report:

"Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt met on May 1 with the CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the mining company, CNN reported on September 22 based on interviews and government emails. Little more than an hour later, according to internal emails, the administrator directed his staff to reverse Obama-era protections for Bristol Bay, which had been created after years of scientific review. Based on that work, the previous administration had aimed to pre-emptively veto certain mining activities in the ecologically important region.

Among the critics likely to contact the agency are representatives from Alaska Native communities in Bristol Bay, as well as scientists like Quinn (Thomas Quinn, a professor at the University of Washington who has been studying fish in Bristol Bay for 30 years), who has dedicated his professional life to researching the area.

"This is the jewel in the crown of America's fisheries resources, this salmon," Quinn told CNN. "If you don't think this is worth saving, what is? If you don't think that (a gold and copper mine) is going to constitute a threat, what would? To me, if you don't draw a line in the sand here, there's none to be drawn anywhere. You're saying that no resource, no matter how valuable, is off-limits to development -- no matter how obviously deleterious."

Quinn's concerns are based on his years researching the bay, which were incorporated into a 2014 EPA report on Bristol Bay under the Obama administration.

The salmon's incredible migration also sustains people: Nearly half of the world's sockeye catch comes from this one region, which is one of the last, great salmon fisheries on Earth." [Bold emphasis ours].

And now? Guys like Quinn, who know what they're talking about, are justifiably worried as hell even though Pebble still would have to apply for permits before building a mine in Bristol Bay.

The public hearings and comment period

Two public hearings will be held in Alaska on the topic this week. And the public has until October 17 to comment on Pruitt's proposed policy reversal before it could be finalized.

So you better get your comments into the EPA wiki-wiki and you Alaskans better mobilize fast and hard for a serious fight because the wheels have now been greased by the open-pit mining friendly Trump-Republican EPA for one of the biggest and deepest open pit mines you've ever seen to be plopped down into one of the world's last pristine environments -- one that produces an irreplaceable wild salmon run that dates back thousands of years.

UW professor Quinn says that 2014 EPA report on Bristol Bay was based partly on Pebble's filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission which estimated the total mine site could be larger than Manhattan and nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon.

"Such a mine "would result in complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources" in some areas of the bay watershed, the EPA found after three years of peer-reviewed research. In particular, the EPA estimated 22 miles of streams and more than 6 square miles of wetlands and other habitats that are important to salmon and other fish would be lost to a large-scale mine," says the CNN report.

Isn't it nice to know there's a government in power in Washington with a stable, thoughtful, billionaire adult like Donald Trump as President and an EPA Director like Pruitt that has never seen a pristine, rare, world-class sustainable resource environment it didn't want to sink an open pit mine the size of Manhattan into?

The full CNN report is here .


By the way, you're welcome. You can show your undying appreciation by giving our DONATE graphic at the top of the page a workout. Dig deep bro. Make it happen.

STORY TAGS: EPA Director Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump, Environmental Protection Agency, Alaska, Bristol Bay watershed, sockeye salmon, Northern Dynasty Minerals, Pebble Limited Partnership, UW professor Thomas Quinn, open pit mine



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