One mining firm fined as another ups its Pebble bet by $10 million

We didn’t have to point out the juxtaposition of one Alaskan mining firm being fined for environmental violations — notwithstanding the industry’s claim that modern mining methods obviate environmental harm — as another upped its bet to open a massive new mine in The Last Frontier state.

No, the editorial writers at the Anchorage Daily News caught that one for us.

Firm No. 1 is Teck Alaska, which was just fined for wastewater violations at its Red Dog Mine near Kotzebue. It’s a subsidiary of Teck Cominco, a firm based just across the Canadian border and upstream from Washington’s Lake Roosevelt, which the firm also has polluted. This despite the mining industry’s characterization of regulations as a “belt-and-suspenders” system to protect the environment.

Firm No. 2 is Northern Dynasty Mines Inc., which is boosting its budget for the Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska by $10 million, to $70 million. Opponents point out that the proposed mine is upstream from Bristol Bay, where they fear mining pollution will severely curtail the salmon harvest.

Here’s what the Daily News’ opinion writers had to say about the situation.
We’re told Alaska has strong mining laws that will ensure Pebble is benign. Experience with Red Dog suggests those laws have failed to prevent significant trouble….

No mine — or any other industrial operation — is going to run flawlessly, even with the best training and intentions and vigilant enforcement.
While we’re rounding up pollution news in the 49th state, we also should note that BP just got fined $1.7 million for inadequate oil spill protection at Prudhoe Bay.

— Robert McClure

Keep Bristol Bay area closed to mining, Alaska groups say

Sportsmen, businesses and conservationists in Alaska banded together this week to send a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar requesting he block a plan that would open nearly 1 million acres to potential oil and gas leasing and mining, reports Elizabeth Bluemink of the Anchorage Daily News. The plan to open federal land in the Bristol Bay region would harm rivers and streams that support already-troubled populations of salmon, the groups say.

The Bureau of Land Management is behind the plan to open the land, although studies it issued last year indicate the nearly 1 million acres “didn’t appear to contain valuable resources.” This has many questioning the validity of the studies, since the land is downriver from the highly-valuable proposed Pebble Mine. Critics ask: If the land doesn’t have viable mineral deposits, why open it to mining?

The BLM says reasons to keep the land closed are outdated. The 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act created native corporations in Alaska and allowed them to select parcels of holdings before anyone else could stake claims. Now that most of the parcels have been divvied up, the BLM doesn’t see the point in waiting longer before leasing remaining lands. Those in favor of opening the land counter that the sportfishermen wouldn’t have hooks if it wasn’t for mining.

It all comes down to resource value. Competing interests for mines, dams, recreation and wildlife habitat have been exacerbated by recent concerns over salmon population declines throughout the Pacific Northwest. This has led to some surprising partnerships, like the one between loggers and environmentalists as InvestigateWest reported earlier.

Controversial Alaskan mine’s permits in question

A southwest Alaskan group is suing the state, claiming the permits for a prospective mine are invalid because regulators did not allow public comment before approving them, reports Elizabeth Bluemink of the Anchorage Daily News. An Alaskan regulator said the state may grant permits concerning water usage and mineral exploration without public input, as long as the project is in the public interest, the Associated Press reported. The proposed Pebble mine site sits at the headwaters of five rivers supporting Bristol Bay’s salmon fisheries. The mine would bring much-needed jobs to the area, but locals worry drilling has already impacted animals in the area and would affect rich salmon populations.

– Emily Linroth