Alaska’s salmon industry prepares for another Pebble Mine battle

Published on
May 17, 2017

Bristol Bay, Alaska is primed for yet another above-average run this season in the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery, but a portion of the industry’s energy this season may again be redirected to a fight the Pebble Mine, a massive copper, silver and gold mine proposed for location at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

The administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama had stalled permits for the extraction site under a clause of the Clean Water Act, a move that prompted the site’s developer Pebble Limited Partnership to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claiming collusion between government officials and the mine’s detractors. 

Last Friday, 12 May, results from an E.P.A. review found no such collusion. The resulting settlement, however, opened the door for applications for new permits under an E.P.A. run by Secretary Scott Pruitt, whom some fear will not be sympathetic to concerns over the mine’s possible harm to the salmon fishery and the ecosystem in general.

Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., the Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada-based parent company of Pebble Limited Partnership, now has 30 months to file a new application.

“From the outset of this unfortunate saga, we’ve asked for nothing more than fairness and due process under the law –  the right to propose a development plan for Pebble and have it assessed against the robust environmental regulations and rigorous permitting requirements enforced in Alaska and the United States,” said Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ron Thiessen in a statement released on Friday. 

Fierce opposition to the mine is expected to be revived as fishermen, environmentalists and native organizations in Bristol Bay unite to fight the site. 

Polls show the Pebble Mine is unpopular in Alaska, despite the reputation of the state as being friendly to extractive industries such as oil, natural gas and mineral extraction. According to figures cited by The New York Times, 80 percent of local residents and 62 percent of residents statewide oppose the project. It has not fared much better with the state government, where the mine has met in the past with vocal rejection from Governor Scott Walker and a chilly reception from the Republican-led legislature. A ballot measure in 2014 gave the state veto power over mines in the Bristol Bay region, and many observers think that even if the mine can navigate the labyrinthine federal channels, it will be axed by the state.

Shares for Northern Dynasty spiked to USD 3.36 (EUR 3.03) on a bullish outlook under the new administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, but crashed again after a crippling February report from Kerrisdale Capital Management calling Northern Dynasty stock “worthless.” Northern Dynasty stock prices saw a slight bump on Friday, 12 May to USD 2.40 (EUR 2.16) on news of the E.P.A.’s settlement, but had slipped back to USD 1.76 (EUR 1.59) in after-hours trading Monday. 

Contributing Editor reporting from Seattle, USA

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