In late May, the Environmental Protection Agency relaunched proceedings under the Clean Water Act which, if finalized, would prevent destructive copper and gold mining in one of the world’s most valuable salmon watersheds. world: Bristol Bay, Alaska. As members of the nation’s fishing and seafood industries, we applaud this decision and urge the EPA to finalize strong watershed protections as soon as possible.
Bristol Bay produces 50% of the world’s sockeye salmon, which in turn supports 15,000 fishing and seafood jobs and sustains the region’s ancestral Yup’ik, Dena’ina and Alutiiq ways of life. In recent years, Bristol Bay has been riding the wave of one record harvest after another, at a time when salmon returns to other Alaskan watersheds have been trending lower. The nation cannot afford to put this abundance at risk, and the full protection under the The Clean Water Act would ensure that she never had to.
Unfortunately, mining developers have clung to a new argument to salvage the fate of their ill-fated investments: the urgency of solving climate change. In a recent press release, the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, which owns the mineral rights to the largest deposit in the Bristol Bay watershed, called the EPA’s decision to protect Bristol Bay “not leaps and bounds backwards for the Biden administration’s climate change goals.” Presumably referring to the large amounts of copper needed to mass-produce components for renewable energy systems and electric vehicles, this statement appears to be a last-ditch effort to trick the public into accepting a mining proposal so destructive that 2.5 million comments have been submitted. has opposed it since 2012.
The sight of a developer so cunningly turning the undoubted urgency of climate change into a stick to fend off environmental scrutiny should give us all pause.
In New England, too, we are told that jeopardizing the ecosystems that support fisheries is the price to pay for solving climate change. The argument here comes from offshore wind proponents, who are working hand in hand with the Biden administration to set a course to install 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030 – from a baseline. from nearly zero in just eight years – and 110 gigawatts by 2050, with most of the initial development taking place offshore New England and mid-Atlantic and limited environmental review taking place before the issuance of the leases.
What would this ladder of development look like? With today’s technology, 110 gigawatts would equal nearly 8,500 wind turbines, or 137 times the size of the planned Vineyard wind facility south of Cape Cod. This would mean near-continuous construction on the continental shelf for three decades. Although no one knows what the ecological impacts of such construction might be (and this is precisely our point), evidence suggests that they may include alterations to the acoustic and sensory environment, electromagnetic fields and patterns currents and winds, affecting a variety of species whose survival depends on these aspects of the underwater world.
Offshore wind off New England and mining in the Bristol Bay watershed are linked by more than fake ultimatums invoking climate catastrophe as the inevitable consequence of keeping these wild places wild . It also happens that offshore wind, which requires hundreds of miles of power cables up to 11 inches in diameter, is the most copper-intensive of all renewable energy technologies. Every mile of cable laid on the ocean floor will increase the pressure to mine copper in valuable and irreplaceable places like Bristol Bay.
No one has more to lose from climate change than those who catch wild fish for a living. But fishermen will not succumb to false dichotomies. Our leaders must take seriously the search for solutions that work for both climate and water ecosystems – not one at the expense of the other. The fight against climate change is indeed urgent, but that urgency is no excuse for allowing reckless mining in Bristol Bay or potentially reckless energy development in New England waters.
Roger Berkowitz is founder and CEO of Legal Sea Foods Marketplace and president of Massachusetts Seafood Collaborative. Sarah Schumann fishes commercially in Rhode Island and Alaska and coordinates the Fishery Friendly Climate Action campaign.