August 25, 2020
By Fly Fisherman Staff
Pebble Mine won’t move forward as it’s currently proposed, says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and both state senators. On Aug. 24, the Army Corps gave the Canadian-owned company Northern Dynasty Minerals 90 days to submit a “compensatory mitigation” plan to address “unavoidable adverse impacts" such as discharges into the Koktuli and Nushagak watersheds.
In 2014, the EPA under the Obama administration ruled that Northern Dynasty could not even apply for USACE permits for Pebble Mine because it could have “significant” and potentially “catastrophic” impacts to the Bristol Bay Region, the world’s most prolific Pacific salmon watershed. In 2017, under the Trump administration, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt promised to “provide Pebble a fair process for their permit application.”
However, after prominent Republicans like Nick Ayers and Donald Trump Jr. tweeted their opposition to the mine, and Fox News host Tucker Carlson hosted Bass Pro Shops owner Johnny Morris on his primetime show, President Donald Trump promised to “look at both sides of it.”
Just a few days later, on Aug. 24, USACE said it will “review the compensatory mitigation plan upon submittal to determine if the amount and type of compensatory mitigation offered is sufficient to offset the identified unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources and overcome signifcant degradation at the mine site.”
USACE now estimates the mine site would directly or indirectly affect 2,825 acres of wetlands, 132.5 acres of open waters and 129.5 miles of streams, and discharges from its transportation corridor would impact 460 acres of wetlands, 231.7 acres of open waters and 55.5 miles of streams.
This is a very important development in the battle to stop the Pebble Mine, and will make it much harder for the Northern Dynasty to secure the permits it needs," said Guido Rahr, CEO of Wild Salmon Center. This also is the first time the Army Corps of Engineers has acknowledged that the mine will cause significant damage to the Bristol Bay watershed. No amount of mitigation can compensate for the long-term damage to these rivers, which support the most productive salmon fisheries on Earth."
Hours after the USACE published its new directive for a mitigation plan, both Alaska senators issued public statements.
“In this instance, after years of extensive process and scientific study, federal officials have determined the Pebble project, as proposed, does not meet the high bar for large-scale development in Bristol Bay,” wrote Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “I understand, respect, and support this decision. I agree that a permit should not be issued. And I thank the administration for its commitment to the protection of this world-class watershed and salmon fishery.”
Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who had been critical of the Obama Administration’s outright dismissal of the mine, also said that the current proposal is untenable.
“Throughout this process, I have advocated for the Army Corps and other federal regulatory agencies to conduct a rigorous, fair, science-based review—free of politics—that does not trade one resource for another. I have worked hard to ensure that the voices of all Alaskans—both for and against the Pebble Mine—would be heard, considered, and respected at the highest levels of the federal government. This has happened,” wrote Sullivan. “Finally, I have been clear that given the important aquatic system and world-class fishery resources at stake, Pebble, like all resource development projects in Alaska, has to pass a high bar— a bar that the Trump administration has determined Pebble has not met. I support this conclusion—based on the best available science and a rigorous, fair process— that a federal permit cannot be issued.
Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier in a written statement Aug. 24 claimed nothing had changed: “Based on our understanding of the substance of the letter, our discussions with the state, our substantial work in the field and our discussions with the USACE we believe our final Comprehensive Management Plan submission will be submitted within weeks and will satisfy all of the requirements of the letter. A clear reading of the letter shows it is entirely unrelated to recent tweets about Pebble and one-sided news shows. The White House had nothing to do with the letter ... This is the next step in what has been a comprehensive, exhaustive two-and-a-half-year review of the project. Nothing in the letter is a surprise to us or them.”