Pebble Mine: An Update

Pebble Mine Aerial Photo (Bill Roth / ADN archive 2013)
Pebble Mine Aerial Photo (Bill Roth / ADN archive 2013)

Sometimes it seems to WC he has been fighting Pebble Mine forever. But it’s only been 21 years. As has been reported here before, it’s the wrong mine, in the wrong kind of ore in the wrong place. It also seems to WC that the mine project has been “killed” at least ten times, but somehow crawls back to life, a kind of zombie project that shambles along regardless. Last Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency “killed” it again, finding:

EPA has determined that the large-scale loss of, and damage to, headwater streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources that support salmon populations in [three different river] watersheds from the discharge of dredged or fill material for the construction and routine operation of the 2020 Mine Plan described in Pebble Limited Partnership’s June 8, 2020, Clean Water Act Section 404 permit application, as well as future proposals that would have the same, similar, or greater levels of aquatic resource loss or damage will have unacceptable adverse effects on anadromous fishery areas in the these watersheds.

Northern Dynasty, Pebble Mine’s owner, has announced it intends to appeal the EPA’s determination. But this is only the latest of the losses and complications confronting the proposed Pebble Mine. Here’s a brief recap.

One of the permits for the mine comes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which earlier denied a mining permit to Pebble Limited Partnership. The Corps determined that Pebble Mine “would not comply with the 404(b)(1) Guidelines” – the Clean Water regulations – “and would be contrary to the public interest.” Northern Dynasty, the only “partner” in “Pebble Partnership” at present, has appealed that decision. We’re still a year or so away from a decision in what’s likely to be the first step of a long series of appeals.

Pedro Bay Native Corporation, the Alaska Native village corporation located at the northeasterly end of Lake Iliamna, and a principle landowner in those parts, granted a conservation easement to The Conservation Fund. The conservation easement prevents construction of any roads or pipelines across the village corporation’s land. Pedro Bay will get $18.3 million. The transaction was approved by 90% of the Pedro Bay shareholders. And the salmon that spawn in the easterly stream around Pedro Bay, and are the subsistence diet of the villagers, are better protected. The conservation easement is squarely across the route Pebble Partnership intended to use to get supplies in and ore concentrates out of the proposed mine.

And now another federal agency, the EPA, has issued a final determination that would have “unacceptable adverse effects” on salmon spawning habitat. Even more clearly than the Corp of Engineers’ decision, this is an application of administrative expertise. That means a reviewing court – the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – would affirm the EPA’s decision if there is “substantive evidence” to support the conclusion, even if the reviewing court might have reached a different conclusion.

The mine is unpopular with Alaskans in general and with folks in the region in particular. It’s opposed by the entire Alaska Congressional delegation: Rep. Peltola, Senator Murkowski and even Senator Sullivan, who has rarely met a development project he didn’t like. It’s true that Governor Dunleavy, who has never met an Alaska development project he wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about, still thinks Pebble Mine is a fine idea. WC suspects that position is a consequence of political contributions, that Dunleavy’s support has been bought and paid for.

So is the zombie project truly dead now? Nope. As WC has noted before, there’s too much gold in the ore body, and the power of gold over developers’ and promotors’ minds is appalling. To kill Pebble Mine dead, really and permanently, the Bristol Bay watersheds need to have permanent protection. Mining needs to be banned. It’s going to take a law. And until we have a law, we’re going to have to keep fighting to stop Pebble Mine.

So count it as a victory. But don’t count it as ending the fight. There’s another, bigger battle still to be fought.

3 thoughts on “Pebble Mine: An Update

  1. That “the project has been “killed” at least ten times” is a perfect example of the maxim I keep telling new activists. Democracy is a process not a condition and so long as the system doesn’t change the fight has to continue on all fronts and must be renewed each and every day. Twenty-one years is an impressive record.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The gold would be shipped to China and the State of Alaska does not tax mining sufficiently so what’s in it for Alaska?


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