Huge Environment Controversy That Few Have Heard Of

Huge Environment Controversy That Few Have Heard Of

Huge Environment Controversy

Somewhere buried in the hills of  Alaska is a treasure worth as much as half a trillion dollars.

This deposit of minerals and metals, known simply as Pebble, contains the largest untouched reserve of copper in the world — some 80 billion pounds of it — along with thousands of tons of gold.

If you haven’t heard of the Pebble deposit, that’s no surprise. Located 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, it’s accessible only by air, which has helped keep it from the public eye.

But you’re going to start hearing a lot more about it. The Pebble deposit’s fate is one of the biggest environmental decisions facing Barack Obama’s administration since the Keystone XL pipeline.

If sanctioned, it could eventually become the biggest open pit mine in North America, maybe the planet. But it’s not just Pebble’s size that has many people upset; it’s the location.

The mine — along with billions of tons of potentially toxic waste — would sit at the headwaters of one of world’s most important salmon spawning grounds. Its critics, like former Republican Alaska state Sen. Rick Halford, believe poisonous runoff is bound to end up in the nearby rivers and streams.

“The thing that makes this so important is water is everywhere. Water connects everything we’ve got,” explained Halford. “It’s like blood in the human body and it doesn’t take but a tiny infection to poison your whole body.”

But defenders of the proposed mine say there are critical safeguards in place, and that environmentalists are using scare tactics to persuade the public. They also argue the Pebble deposit could bring hundreds of steady jobs to the area, strengthening communities that desperately need it.

‘No ordinary mine’

According to the mining company’s assessment, Pebble would be no ordinary mine. It would require hiring 2,500 building workers just to get the site up and running. Getting the metal out of the ground means digging a hole that could eventually be more than three miles wide and 4,000 feet deep — more than three times as deep as the Empire State building is high.

Mining company executives have repeatedly assured the public the mine can be built and operated safely. Mike Heatwole, a vice president with the Pebble Partnership, the company that intends to unearth the fortune, told “America Tonight” it has already spent $150 million on environmental studies. Heatwole says those studies have focused on characterizing the ecosystem surrounding Pebble and identifying ways the mine can be built to protect it.

A mine of this size and potential riches, he added, is a plus, not a minus. It means having “the financial resources to do it right.”

Heatwole also argues there are critical safeguards in place, emphasizing that the mine would need more than 50 permits from both federal and state regulators before even being allowed to operate. “Mines have to meet environmental criteria,” he cautioned.


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