Conservation Corner – We Don’t Need NO Stinking PEBBLE MINE

Photo of Bristol Bay headwaters, © Ryan Peterson

In July 2020 the Army Corps of Engineers released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that would allow the Pebble project to move forward.  Since then thousands of concerned Alaskans, and Americans from around the country, have raised a big ruckus.  Commercial, subsistence and recreational fishers have fought this project for over ten years, and many thought it finished in 2015.  It came back like Lazarus from the grave, and it reminds us that some conservation battles must be fought over and over.  And Pebble is not dead yet.  Tell the Administration, Congress and the EPA that it needs die for good.

Many FCO members have fished in the Bristol Bay watershed and nearby in Southwest Alaska.  The mine site is only 15 miles above Lake Illiamna, and the famous Nushagak & Kvichak rivers are downstream.  Those 2 rivers account for much of the Bay’s sockeye run, which in the last few years has exceeded 50 million fish.  About half of the world’s wild sockeye harvest comes from this region.  It is a world class model of a sustainably managed fishery.  And it would be at great risk from a huge open pit gold mine and its resulting waste, billions of tons of toxic tailings and contaminated water.  There have been recent major tailings dam failures in Canada, Spain & Brazil.

Over 14,000 people are employed in Bristol Bay salmon related jobs, which has an economic impact of $1.5 billion annually.  About thirty years ago, for a couple of summers I worked on two rivers in SW AK, and it was a life changing experience, especially for a young guy from Georgia.  We all hope to be able to fish in this healthy wild salmon ecosystem for many generations to come, in a place free of dams, mines, hatcheries, overharvest and degradation.  Some good news came out in late August, after the bad news about the EIS in July mentioned above.

Doubts grow Alaska’s Pebble Mine can satisfy new regulatory hurdles

REUTERS BUSINESS NEWS  AUGUST 25, 2020  Reporting by Jeff Lewis and Ernest Scheyder; Writing by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Bill Berkrot

– Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd (NAK) shares fell more than 25% on Tuesday on rising doubts the company can clear regulatory hurdles for its Pebble Mine project in Alaska, and prominent politicians said it would harm the state’s salmon fishing industry. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday gave Northern Dynasty 90 days to explain how it would offset “unavoidable adverse impacts” to more than 3,200 acres (1,295 hectares) of wetlands were the mine to be developed.

 Late on Monday, Alaska’s U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans, came out against the mine, saying it could cause significant damage to the state’s Bristol Bay region popular for fishing and hunting.  Murkowski is the powerful chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and her opposition is likely to carry weight across U.S. federal agencies. Other prominent Republicans (including Don Trump, Jr.) have opposed the project, saying it would destroy areas where they enjoy fishing and hunting.

 Northern Dynasty, in response to the Army Corps, said it plans to “preserve enough land so that multiples of the number of impacted wetland acres are preserved,” but its shares still fell more than 40% on Monday.  Doubts about the project have steadily risen in recent months.

 The potential cost of such a mitigation plan is unknown and thus concerning, Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Mike Kozak said in research note. “It will be exceptionally challenging to reach a compensation plan … that will satisfy all parties,” he said.  Cantor Fitzgerald put its price target and stock rating for the company under review, effectively saying it is not immediately clear how much the company is worth.

 The Army Corps deadline likely means any final permit decision would come after the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election. A victory by Democrat Joe Biden would likely to scuttle the entire project, TD Securities analyst Craig Hutchinson said.

 Since this news came out, in late September the environmental nonprofit, Environmental Investigations Agency, released a series of recordings called the Pebble Tapes. In these tapes & videos, the top two executives of Northern Dynasty & the Pebble Project describe to supposed investors the size and future of Pebble, which would be far bigger project with a 180-year life instead of 20 years.  This completely conflicts with their public statements and submitted plans.  They also brag about their relationships with Alaska’s US Senators, Alaska’s Governor, and the Trump Administration, including the Army Corp of Engineers (ACE).  Talk about draining the swamp, this stinks.

As a result, one of the Pebble executives, CEO Tom Collier, resigned on September 23, 2020.  But that doesn’t mean that ACE and EPA have denied the permit application; it’s still in the process.  US Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called for the Justice Department to investigate whether Pebble Mine executives have lied to Congress and in documents submitted to the federal government, as well as possibly deceiving investors.

NO PEBBLE MINE!  For more information and how to take more action, please see: Portland’s Wild Salmon Center  Trout Unlimited’s campaign  United Tribes of Bristol Bay   A consortium of BB residents, fishermen, and businesses

Submitted by Felton Jenkins