Biden voices opposition to Pebble Mine
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said over the weekend that he would oppose the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, if he wins the November election.
In a prepared statement, the former vice president said he would uphold the Obama-era ruling that the proposed gold and copper mine would cause extensive damage to the Bristol Bay watershed and its prolific sockeye salmon run, the world’s largest.
“It’s no place for a mine. The Obama-Biden administration reached that conclusion when we ran a rigorous, science-based process in 2014, and it is still true today,” the statement said.
It was another high-profile dissenting voice as opposition to the mine mounts after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers submitted its Final Environmental Impact Statement on 24 July, opening the door for the Corps to approve permits as early as the end of August.
“I think the issuance of the final environmental impact statement really made people stand up and say, ‘Oh no, this could really happen’. And there’s been bipartisan concern. I think a lot of people thought it was such an outrageous proposal that it would never happen, and this scared them into action,” SalmonState Executive Director Tim Bristol told SeafoodSource on Monday, 10 August. SalmonState is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and protecting Alaska’s wild salmon populations.
Biden joins an unlikely ally in the cause. Last week, in a rare divergence from his father’s policies, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out a statement against Pebble Mine.
“I think every major political figure that weighs in expressing concern or outright opposition to the mine is a bad sign for Pebble Limited Partnership. Having the Biden campaign say they’ll do whatever it takes to protect Bristol Bay is a very unwelcome sign for them,” Bristol said.
While the Obama administration denied permits for the mine in 2014, two decades of resistance to the mine has come from both sides of the aisle. Former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, opposed the mine, and former Republican Governor Jay Hammond told The Washington Post “the only worse place for a mine was his own kitchen.”
“It’s not just liberal Democrats who oppose this mine,” Bristol told SeafoodSource. A SalmonState news release said businesses as diverse as Tiffany & Co, Whole Foods, and Orvis have spoken out against the project.
Public support for Pebble Mine is also low in Alaska, a state that depends heavily on resource extraction, Bristol said. A recent Natural Resources Defense Council poll showed 62 percent of Alaskans oppose the mine and 31 percent are for it.
“When you have 62 percent opposition for a development project in the state of Alaska, the developer has a problem. That just doesn't happen. That’s man bites dog,” Bristol said.
Andy Wink, the executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, said broad opposition should spur the federal government to action.
“By pledging to protect Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine, Biden isn’t just doing what’s best for the fish. He’s doing what’s best for America’s hard-working families who depend on Bristol Bay for their livelihoods and the thousands of businesses around the country that depend on Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon. There is broad public opposition to this particular mining project across the political spectrum. The environmental review process left far too many questions unanswered, and we hope that our federal leadership will act in accordance with the will of Alaskans and other Americans,” Wink said.
Polls conducted by the United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB) and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) have turned in opposition above 75 percent. A BBNC poll last year had 76 percent of all shareholders objecting to the mine, with 83 percent of BBNC members who live in Bristol Bay against it.
“It’s incredible. As a rule in Alaska, the closer you get to the development, the more support you have, but this is the opposite,” Bristol told SeafoodSource.
UTBB Executive Director Alannah Hurley said her organization appreciated Biden’s commitment to protecting her ancestral fishing grounds, home to subsistence fishing for Native families as well as a fishery that generates around USD 1.5 billion (EUR 1.3 billion) annually.
“The bipartisan support for protecting Bristol Bay from this toxic project just confirms what as Native people we have always known: Bristol Bay is invaluable to the globe. In a time of great upheaval in this country, we are heartened by the strong support across the nation to protect our people, our fisheries, and our economy from the toxic Pebble Mine. It’s time to end this toxic project.” Hurley said.
SalmonState’s Bristol said he hopes Alaska’s legislative delegation will show the same leadership Biden and Trump Jr. exhibited and express their desire to have the EPA shut down the permitting process. The New York Times reported that President Trump, when asked about his son’s tweet against the mine, said he would “look at both sides.”
Photo courtesy of Lev Radin