Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Editorial — Focus on the issue, the future of fish

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s primary election, the rhetoric surrounding Ballot Measure 4 – the Clean Water Initiative — has veered off on tangents that take away from the point of the measure: protecting Alaska’s salmon.

The anti-4 spearhead group, Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown, continue to use their namesake fallacy to scare people into voting no.

They say the measure threatens all mining in the state, but the best evidence they can come up with to support that charge is the initiative’s language doesn’t specifically exempt “new facilities at existing mining operations” from the water quality regulations proposed by the measure.

What the measure does say is the regulations would not apply to existing mines. They would not apply to mines less than 640 acres. They would not apply to mining in areas where water doesn’t serve as salmon habitat or is used for drinking.

The initiative would affect new, large-scale mines, such as Pebble — and with good reason.
Pebble would be the largest open-pit sulfide mine on the planet. There has never been a mine like Pebble that hasn’t polluted surrounding waters.

A proposed 750-foot-high, 4.3-mile wide tailings dam would hold back a 14-mile lake of toxic waste in an area prone to severe seismic activity.

All that straddling the headwaters of Bristol Bay — home to the world’s largest salmon fishery.
The anti-Clean Water groups say new regulations aren’t needed, that the current regulatory process and protections are enough. What they don’t like to acknowledge is regulations were drastically altered under Gov. Frank Murkowski. Through an executive order, Murkowski allowed mixing zones, which lets mining companies discharge toxins into salmon streams under the theory that pollutants will dilute enough to not harm fish.

That argument simply isn’t supported by science. Toxins common in mining processes are bio-accumulative, meaning they build up in organisms like salmon, no mater how much water they’re dumped into.

Ballot Measure 4 would reinstate the prohibitions on mixing zones that were in place when existing mines were permitted in Alaska.

Voting no on 4 isn’t an attack against all mining. It isn’t anti-development. It isn’t even a game over for Pebble. It’s simply a way to help protect a valuable, sustainable industry – the salmon fishery.

The potential harm of Pebble is too great to take a wait and see approach. The state’s regulatory process has lost its teeth when it comes to safeguarding salmon. Waiting until damage is done to fix this situation is irresponsible and unconscionable.

Let’s take the opportunity to clean up this problem Tuesday, before we have an even bigger mess on our hands.

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