| ANCHORAGE, Alaska, April 26
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, April 26 Digging a large mine
in southwest Alaska would inflict widespread ecological damage,
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a report on
Friday that could hurt the chances of a proposed project in that
region winning regulatory approval.
A large scale open-pit mine in Alaska's unspoiled Bristol
Bay region would destroy up to 90 miles (145 km) of salmon and
trout spawning streams, harm thousands of acres of wetlands that
support fish and subject local waters to chemical spills and
releases of untreated wastewater, the EPA report said.
The report did not specifically analyze the plan for Pebble
Mine, the project proposed for the area, because developers have
not officially made permit applications. But it studied the
implications of a hypothetical project similar to Pebble. (EPA
Pebble Mine, located 200 miles (322 km) southwest of
Anchorage, would be one of the world's largest open-pit copper
mines. Developers have described it as a potential economic boon
that would target both known and anticipated reserves of 80
billion lbs (36.3 billion kg) of copper, over 100 million ounces
(2.8 million kg) of gold and 5.5 billion pounds (2.5 billion kg)
But the latest EPA report predicted a wider scope of
environmental damage than outlined in a draft report the agency
released last year.
The EPA's conclusion drew a pointed reaction from the mine's
developer, Pebble Limited Partnership President John Shively,
who called the latest version of the assessment "flawed" and a
waste of public money.
Shively in a statement blasted EPA for what he said was a
decision to heed mine opponents' demands for a "pre-emptive
veto" before development plans are final.
Even "the threat of a 'pre-emptive veto' will introduce
uncertainty into the process that threatens to hurt the entire
U.S. economy, not just a proposed mine in Alaska," Shively said.
The new EPA assessment backs up the previous draft report's
conclusions about stream and wetlands damages, but gives more
details about expected damages from roads, culverts, traffic
accidents and other industrialization that would likely
accompany mine development.
The EPA has made no decision about whether to invoke its
legal powers to block the Pebble Mine, said Dennis McLarren,
Pacific Northwest regional director for the agency.
The new report will be used to make any decisions about
Bristol Bay protections, McLarren said in a conference call.
"We want to better understand the delicate ecological
balance the produces the extraordinary fish and wildlife
resources in Bristol Bay and assess the risk that mining could
pose to that balance," he said.
Developers have already spent $680 million on the Pebble
Mine project and plan to spend another $80 million this year,
co-owner Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd said this week.
The other owner and Pebble partner is mining giant Anglo
The Pebble Mine plan has drawn fury from commercial and
sport fishermen, Alaska Natives and environmentalists.
It is upstream from waters that hold the world's largest
sockeye salmon runs and other rich marine life, including
endangered whales and other vulnerable marine mammals. On land,
national wildlife refuges and parks are nearby.