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Religious Leaders in Alaska Urge EPA's McCarthy to Finish Bristol Bay Study

Leaders in five denominations sent a letter to McCarthy Wednesday, asking that the final version of the BBWA be published "before the end of the year."

DILLINGHAM:  A group of senior religious leaders in Alaska have joined the chorus asking the EPA to finish its assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed. The Obama Administration may use the study's findings to shut down operations at the Pebble Mine, using the EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act.

The five leaders of churches sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Wednesday. Among the signees was Bishop-elect of the Orthodox Church in Alaska Father David Mahaffey:

"We have a lot of parishioners in the area that the mine would affect, so we were certainly glad to put our voice forward asking that the area be protected in a way that’s reasonable."

Father Mahaffey says that God calls on His people to be good stewards of the earth, and that’s reflected in the theology of the church:

“In our theology, care of God’s creation has been a hallmark of what we do. This doesn’t mean we are totally opposed to mining, we are not. The minerals were put here for our use, obviously, it says that in the Psalms. But we just want to see them mined in a way that does the least damage to the environment and upholds the needs of the people in the area. And when you talk about the effect on the salmon population especially, it could be absolutely devastating, which is why this particular mine is such an issue for us.”

The letter was signed by leaders in the United Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, and Orthodox denominations in the state. Mahaffey says he and his colleagues are well aware of the heated politics surrounding Pebble, which is all the more reason, he says, for the EPA to hurry along with a clear analysis of the matter:

“I realize in some ways that it has to be a political fight, but this is more about what the government is going to tell us is possible. And once they tell us what they think is possible, then perhaps we can respond to that. We can talk all we want to, the Pebble Mine people can make all the plans they want to, but until the EPA says what this study means, none of us have a clear picture moving forward of what’s going to happen.”

The EPA’s region 10 office in Seattle is responsible for finalizing the assessment. That office has been noticeably mum on the issue, and has refused all requests for comment on the matter since October. The study apparently has undergone another round of peer review by a panel of experts, this time behind closed doors. 

The EPA maintains a final version of the assessment will be released by the end of the year or immediately after the holidays.