Faith leaders urge EPA to assess impact of Alaskan mine

December 20, 2013

Five of Alaska’s senior religious leaders, including the executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Yukon, are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to meet its goal in assessing the possible impacts of mining in the area. 

The EPA previously set a goal to complete its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment before the end of the year. The assessment was initiated after Alaskans who were concerned about the impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine on southwest Alaska petitioned the agency. The Bristol Bay wild sockeye salmon fishery is one of the world’s most valuable, supporting a $1.5 billion annual economy and 14,000 jobs. 

In addition to Alaska Natives, fishermen, outdoors organizations, business owners and conservationists, faith leaders play a vital role in the coalition formed to protect Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine.

“We believe that the Watershed Assessment can help our faith communities better understand the richness and beauty of Bristol Bay and the impact of a mine such as the proposed Pebble Mine on this place and the Alaskan Natives who call it home,” the faith leaders’ letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy reads. “Currently more than 80 percent of the Alaskan Natives who live in and around Bristol Bay are opposed to the mine, concerned that their culture, livelihoods, and children’s future would be devastated by the Pebble Mine.”

Previous drafts of the EPA’s Watershed Assessment indicate that mining on the scale of Pebble – which would be North America’s largest open pit mine – could destroy up to 4,800 acres of wetland salmon habitat and 90 miles of salmon-spawning streams even without accident. When finalized, the Watershed Assessment would provide the scientific foundation for future regulatory action in Bristol Bay, including a Clean Water Act 404c determination.

The full text of the letter:

Dear Administrator McCarthy,

As senior religious leaders in Alaska, we have been following with great interest the Environmental Protection Agency’s ongoing Watershed Assessment of Bristol Bay and look forward to its final release. While we recognize that the recent government shutdown and the sequester are limiting your agency’s ability to work, we urge you to finalize the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment before the end of the year.

The issue of Bristol Bay and the proposed Pebble Mine are of immense concern here in Alaska. The Orthodox Church, the primary faith community in and around Bristol Bay, has urged us to “reject any development that in any way threatens the viability, purity and sanctity of the natural world, especially the rivers and lakes which we hold sacred by both God’s original blessing.” They have also highlighted that they would

“welcome God’s Blessing upon all those who would bring economic development to our communities provided they can prove by successful and continuing operation elsewhere on earth, and that they can conduct such activities without potential or significant harm to the natural environment or polluting the waters which we hold blessed and sacred.”

We believe that the Watershed Assessment can help our faith communities better understand the richness and beauty of Bristol Bay and the impact of a mine such as the proposed Pebble Mine on this place and the Alaskan Natives who call it home.

Currently more than 80 percent of the Alaskan Natives who live in and around Bristol Bay are opposed to the mine, concerned that their culture, livelihoods, and children’s future would be devastated by the Pebble Mine. As Senator Murkowski stated in her letter to the Pebble Partnership “anxiety, frustration and confusion have become the norm in many communities” as a result of the many years of waiting on this project. Your draft assessment indicates that their concerns are valid and this important document will serve as an invaluable resource for determining the appropriate next steps in addressing the proposed Pebble Mine.

We look forward to working with you in the coming months and hope that you are able to finalize the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment by the end of 2013. Thank you for your continued work and ministry.

Archimandrite David (Mahaffey)
Bishop-elect, Diocese of Sitka and Alaska
Orthodox Church in America

Rev. Dr. David G. Beckett
Superintendent
Alaska United Methodist Conference

Curtis Karns, Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Yukon
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The Rt. Rev. Mark Lattime
Bishop  
Episcopal Diocese of Alaska

Bishop Shelley Wickstrom
Alaska Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

  1. I support the efforts to stop this project, based on the huge environmental impact it will have on the lives of the Native people of the region. Having lived in Alaska in 70 and 71, I know first hand the incredible beauty of the area and its value to the native Alaskans. I support their efforts to maintain their valuable assets. Annette

    by Annette main

    January 8, 2014

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