Image: Ben Knight via Bario-Neal
Industry opposition to the controversial mining project at Alaska's Bristol Bay is growing: by last May, dozens of jewelry retailers had vowed to not buy gold from what would be the country's largest open-pit mine and what is the world's largest source salmon fishery (it supplies more than 50 percent of the world's commercial sockeye salmon).
The project is still in the works, however—but the number of jewelers unwilling to participate also continues to climb. Representing a collective $5.75 billion in annual sales, 54 jewelers have now signed on.
Commercial fishermen and Alaska Native villages in the region are asking the EPA to use the Clean Water Act to restrict the dumping of mine waste into local waterways that drain into the Bay. Local people say the salmon fishery provides 10,000 jobs and about $450 million in annual income.
"In the long run, the pursuit of the mine project will be detrimental to the local communities both environmentally and economically," said Damien Dernoncourt, CEO of John Hardy Jewelry (one of the most recent companies to sign the pledge).
Between the cyanide, mercury, and other toxic materials, gold mines are detrimental to the environment. If the Pebble project proceeds as proposed, it would pollute local water supplies and destroy the salmon fishery, which local people refer to as their "red gold."
Bristol Bay is home to the world's largest sockeye salmon population, but king salmon are also plentiful, as well as rainbow trout and other prized species.
From today's press release about the jewelers, which include Zale Corporation, Tiffany & Co., and Helzberg Diamonds:
On Monday, the EPA announced that the agency is launching a scientific review of the suitability of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed, in response to requests from tribes and others. The EPA's action does not represent any regulatory decision by the agency; but "represents EPA's proactive steps to better understand the watershed and gather important scientific information."
"Salmon is life and our red gold," said Kim Williams, executive director for Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of our Land), an association of nine Alaska Native village corporations in Bristol Bay. "It sustains our economy and our people. "The support from jewelers and the recent announcement by EPA are a great gift this Valentine's Day. We're confident that this scientific review will show clearly why Bristol Bay should be protected under Section 404(c)."
National Geographic explained the debate in a December story that's well worth reading, Salmon or Gold.
More on the environmental and social impacts of gold mining
Will California Rush to Mine Gold Again?
Alaskan Gold Mine Wants to Fill Lake With Mine Waste: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments
Conflict Minerals 101: Coltan, the Congo Act, and How You Can Help
Global Greengrants Fund: Where Green Ideas, from Sustainable Agriculture to Mine Restoration, Sprout Around the World
All That Glitters? 5 Ways to Look Closer at Gold