A Golden Catastrophe

Between semesters, I spent two weeks in Anchorage as an intern for the Renewable Resources Coalition (RRC), the non-profit organization leading the fight against the proposed Pebble Mine. Alaska is a pro-develop-ment state, but many Alaskans see more wealth in their salmon fisheries and crystal waters than in the big-gest gold mine in North America. Bristol Bay is known for the world’s cleanest water, and the largest and last pure salmon runs. Millions of salmon travel to spawn in Iliamna Lake every year which is just south of the proposed mine site. The $400 million salmon industry sup-ports 17,570 jobs in commercial and sport fisheries, funded by 65,000 tourists each year. The salmon’s existence, the fishing industry and the area’s culture are at stake. The Canadian com-pany that filed the min-ing claim is Northern Dynasty Mines (NDM). They want to begin in 2011, and remain for 30 to 60 years, but they’re still going through the permit process. They claim they can mine responsibly, but hard rock mining at its best will still endanger the fish, ecosystem and culture. Hard rock min-ing is the number one source of toxin releases in America. If approved and constructed, Pebble will cover 20 square miles, consisting of a two-mile open pit mine, 1,600 feet deep. A new power plant, an industrial road and pipeline will stretch miles allowing passage and mineral transport, certain to al-low spills and leaks. Lastly, there will be four giant earthen dams, one of which will be the largest dam in North America towering 740 feet and 4.3 miles long. Another will be 700 feet tall by 2.9 miles, and two others will be 400 feet and 175 feet tall. The function of each is to hold back toxic cyanide tailing pools subject to leaks. It is an irresponsible location for a mine of such proportion to disrupt precious native land. “social license” is a mining term repre-senting the agreement of local populations. However, polls indicate 70 percent of the local people are against the mine, and are afraid to lose their history of subsistence hunting. Pro-mining Alaskan senator Ted Stevens is opposed even though there is over $150 bil-lion underground. RRC is not an anti-mining organization, but speaks on behalf of the natives and their salmon (who cannot). The current gold mining tax is only 0.7 percent, while oil min-ing is 20 percent, and raising the taxes may be a method to halt the mine. The Bristol Bay Pro-tection Pledge published in this month’s National Jeweler, turning this into an international issue by asking jew-elry companies to vow not to deal in Pebble gold. Since gold isn’t an everyday commodity, many consumers want to know the social and environmental ethical purity of their gold, and the treatment of the miners who unearthed it. When you build something so colossal next to something so precious, fish-kill, erosion, ground water damage and chemical releases are bound to happen in the future. This being the mecca of fisheries, I hope we can keep it holy, so all fishermen can make their pilgrimage.