NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, May 28th, 2022

Proposed Pebble Mine looks kaput, this time for good, as EPA moves to protect Bristol Bay

Alaska's beautiful Bristol Bay

Alaska’s beau­ti­ful Bris­tol Bay, pho­tographed by Jim Klug

The Unit­ed States Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, mov­ing to end a fif­teen year bat­tle, is maneu­ver­ing to block a giant, square mile-sized open pit cop­per and gold mine pro­posed in two water­sheds that are spawn­ing grounds for salmon runs of Alaska’s Bris­tol Bay.

“Bris­tol Bay sup­ports one of the world’s most impor­tant salmon fish­eries: Two decades of sci­en­tif­ic study show us that min­ing the Peb­ble Deposit would cause per­ma­nent dam­age to an ecosys­tem that sup­ports a renew­able eco­nom­ic pow­er­house and has sus­tained fish­ing cul­tures since time immemo­r­i­al,” the EPA’s new Region 10 admin­is­tra­tor (and for­mer Seat­tle may­oral can­di­date) Casey Sixkiller said in a statement.

Although a court chal­lenge is expect­ed, the EPA’s action – tak­en under sec­tion 404(c) of the Clean Water Act – may dri­ve a spike through the heart of the project. It would also end an epic bat­tle that pit­ted one resource that dri­ves Alaska’s econ­o­my against anoth­er. The U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neers has already denied a per­mit to the pro­posed mine, which back­ers want to build in South­west Alas­ka between Kat­mai and Lake Clark Nation­al Parks.

The EPA’s action rep­re­sents a win for the tenac­i­ty of Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington, who began fight­ing the Peb­ble Mine project in 2011 and pushed the fed­er­al agency into a three-year study of the project’s impacts.

The EPA found that the mine would impact any­where from twen­ty-four up to nine­ty-four miles of water­ways and endan­ger forty-eight to six­ty-two miles of riv­er should its reten­tion of tox­ic tail­ings be released. An esti­mat­ed 2,800 acres of wet­lands would be dam­aged or destroyed. The region is an earth­quake zone.

“The sci­ence is clear: Peb­ble Mine would poi­son the frag­ile Bris­tol Bay water­shed, destroy­ing mil­lions of salmon and the thou­sands of jobs that rely on them,” Cantwell said in a state­ment last week, applaud­ing the EPA’s action.

Campaigning against the Pebble Mine

Alas­ka Natives and fish­er­men at First Quan­tum’s 2018 annu­al share­hold­er meet­ing in Toron­to, cam­paign­ing to stop the Peb­ble mine. (Pho­to: Earthworks)

Allow­ing for polit­i­cal hyper­bole, Cantwell was on the mark flag­ging the project. The pro­posed mine would be 2,000 feet deep, require con­struc­tion of an eighty-two-mile ser­vice road through wet­lands as well as a 165-mile nat­ur­al gas pipeline. It would require con­struc­tion of a 270-megawatt pow­er plant, and a port in Iliamna Bay.

Using fig­ures from 2019, the EPA val­ued the annu­al Bris­tol Bay salmon fish­ery at $2.2 bil­lion, the vast major­i­ty being a com­mer­cial and native salmon fish­ery that sup­ports 15,000 jobs and is val­ued at $2 bil­lion. It gen­er­ates near­ly $1 bil­lion worth of eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty in Alas­ka, but also sup­ports about 1,000 licens­es of fish­ers who trav­el north from Washington.

The project has been cham­pi­oned by a Cana­di­an firm, but North­ern Dynasty Min­er­als has increas­ing­ly lacked for company.

A quar­tet of major min­ing firms – Anglo-Amer­i­can, Mit­subishi, Rio Tin­to and First Quan­tum Min­er­als – have with­drawn from the Peb­ble project in recent years.

The Peb­ble Deposit is “of rare mag­ni­tude and qual­i­ty,” said Anglo-Amer­i­can, which nonethe­less pulled out after judg­ing invest­ment and risk as too high.

In 2020, Mor­gan Stan­ley dumped its shares in North­ern Dynasty.

The pro­posed Alas­ka megapro­ject has gen­er­at­ed a mul­ti­fac­eted oppo­si­tion dur­ing the past decade.

  • Five lead­ing retail jew­el­ers, includ­ing Ben Bridge and Tiffany,gave the project thumbs down and said they would not fash­ion jew­el­ry out of gold tak­en from the mine. “For Tiffany & Co., and we believe many of our fel­low retail jew­el­ers, this means we will look to oth­er places to source gold,” said Michael Kowal­s­ki, Tiffany’s CEO.
  • Lead­ing chefs decried the Peb­ble Project for its poten­tial dam­age to wild salmon runs. A “Stop Peb­ble Mine” mes­sage was pro­ject­ed on the wall of Seattle’s Palace Kitchen. “We have &@#$ed up every com­mer­cial fish­ery that we’ve had down here in the states. All forty-eight states, so this is the last fron­tier and this is the last one avail­able,” in the words of Seat­tle celebri­ty chef Tom Douglas.
  • An out­fit called the Envi­ron­men­tal Inves­ti­ga­tion Agency, pos­ing as Hong Kong investors, got Peb­ble Part­ner­ship exec­u­tives to boast of their influ­ence with Alas­ka politi­cians. CEO Tom Col­lier said U.S. Sen­a­tors Lisa Murkows­ki and Dan Sul­li­van might sound crit­i­cal but were ready to go along with the mine. Murkows­ki might make hos­tile nois­es, said Col­lier, but “when it comes time to do some­thing, she nev­er does any­thing to hurt Peb­ble. Nev­er.” Exit Tom Col­lier. Both Alas­ka sen­a­tors denied back­stage sup­port for the mine and sub­se­quent­ly found seri­ous flaws in Pebble’s per­mit application.
  • The Trump regime pulled back on plans to use the Clean Water Act and appeared for a time lean­ing toward Army Corps per­mit­ting of the project. It turned out, how­ev­er, that pres­i­den­tial sons Don­ald Jr. and Eric Trump are patrons of lux­u­ry sport fish­ing lodges in the region. Curi­ous­ly, nativist FNC pun­dit Tuck­er Carl­son also denounced the project.

The last line of advo­ca­cy, for Peb­ble Mine devel­op­ers, is that cop­per from the mine would aid in con­struc­tion of tur­bines, solar pan­els and elec­tric vehi­cles, all com­po­nents in the Biden administration’s cam­paign to curb glob­al warm­ing. It has, how­ev­er, not been list­ed as a crit­i­cal min­er­al by the fed­er­al government.

The EPA’s deter­mi­na­tion of impacts under the Clean Water Act would pro­hib­it any enti­ty from dump­ing mine relat­ed waste with­in a 308-square mile region around the site of the pro­posed mine.

Dur­ing the 2020 cam­paign for the White House, Pres­i­dent Biden pledged to “lis­ten to the sci­en­tists and pro­tect Bris­tol Bay… It is no place for a mine.”

The EPA will accept pub­lic com­ments until July 5th, and expects to pub­lish a final legal deter­mi­na­tion lat­er this year.

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for the great news!

    # by Kendall P. :: June 12th, 2022 at 11:47 AM
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