Trump Administration Orders An About-Face on Pebble Mine

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Bristol Bay, Alaska       Photo: Alaska Trekker at English Wikipedia

On Monday in a highly unusual reversal, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a letter denying the permit application for the controversial Pebble Mine in Alaska. This comes after years of work and large expenditures by the Trump team to restart the development of the mine that President Obama rejected outright in 2014.  Most recently, a final environmental impact statement downplayed the impacts of the mine on the most valuable wild salmon fishery in the world operating in Bristol Bay. The government now has given the developer 90 days to design a plan to mitigate the impacts of mining discharges to 2,825 acres of wetlands, 132.5 acres of open waters and 129.5 miles of streams, and the transportation of mine tailings to 460 acres of wetlands, 231.7 acres of open waters and 55.5 miles of streams — a very tall order.

Why This Matters: This mine should never be built.  Ever. It puts at risk the single most valuable sustainable fishery in the world and puts two pristine national parks.  But apparently none of that mattered until big donors, and Fox News commentators and Don Jr. objected.  As they say, it’s not what you know….

The Mine Will Have Substantial Impacts After All

We reported earlier this month that the government had concluded that the mine “would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers and result in long-term changes to the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay.”  It was to be sited near two National Parks, and the mine tailings would be piped along the headwaters of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery about 200 miles from Anchorage.  But now, the Corps of Engineers sees huge problems with the mine, saying in a statement that it would “likely result in significant degradation of the environment and would likely result in significant adverse effects on the aquatic system or human environment.”  But the Corps also said, “This administration supports the mining industry and acknowledges the benefits the industry has provided to the economy and productivity of this country, from job creation to the extraction of valuable resources, which are especially important as we recover from this pandemic.”

Environmental Groups, Fishers, and Tribes 

Both Alaska Senators agreed that it was the right decision.  Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council told The Hill, “The problem with Pebble is that it has always been the wrong mine in the wrong place…A massive open pit at the headwaters of the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery is a project whose impacts cannot be mitigated.”  Local Alaska station KTUU reported that the Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), which has opposed Pebble since 2009, said in a statement  “The real winners of today’s decision are the people of our region. The future of Bristol Bay is more secure because local stakeholders have been unwavering in their efforts to disclose the true impacts this project would cause to the region’s fisheries, fishing-based economy and subsistence way of life.”  And the Commercial Fisherman for Bristol Bay and Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association said in a statement that they “celebrate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conclusion.”

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