US Army Corps of Engineers rejects Pebble Mine permit application, likely killing project
On Wednesday, 25 November, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit application for the proposed Pebble Mine, an open-pit copper, gold, and molybdenum extraction project proposed for the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska – North America's most prolific salmon habitat.
The Corps “determined that the applicant’s plan for the discharge of fill material does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines and concluded that the proposed project is contrary to the public interest,” Col. Damon Delarosa, commander of the Corps in Alaska, said a prepared statement, according to Alaska Public.
The controversial project had been dogged by a scandal caused by the release of secretly recorded videos of Pebble executives recorded by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group. In the videos, which led to the resignation of Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier, it was revealed that the mine could operate for much longer than proposed, and could expand to other areas where the partnership owns mineral rights.
U.S. President Donald Trump decided to oppose the project in August, after initially saying he would consider the perspectives of both mine backers and opponents.
Advocates for the preservation of Bristol Bay's wild fishery habitat, as well as the region's Native and coastal communities, praised the decision, but emphasized the need for permanent protections, noting that one permit application denial does not end the prospect of the Pebble or similar mining project from moving forward.
"We're obviously celebrating, but a permit denial isn't permanent protections," said Katherine Carscallen, executive director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. "So we're focusing on the next step of working with [U.S.] Sen. [Lisa] Murkowski and everyone else who said they support permanent protections for the region."
Northern Dynasty Minerals, which owns Pebble Corp., maintains the metals rights for the Pebble deposit. The Northern Dynasty stock value was down by more than 50 percent – from USD 0.83 (EUR ) to USD 0.37 (EUR ) – in the hour following the announcement.
“Sometimes a project is so bad, so indefensible, that the politics fall to the wayside, and we get the right decision. That is what happened today," said Tim Bristol, executive director of SalmonState, which has advocated against the Pebble project.
While the rejection of the mine’s permit application is a victory for the environment and local fishermen, there is still work to be done in the way of urging the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to establish Clean Water Act protections for the region — the same protections the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency laid out in 2014 under then-President Barack Obama and which were withdrawn by the Trump administration in 2017, according to Bristol.
"The critical next step is to reestablish the Clean Water Act protections for America’s greatest salmon fishery – protections that should have never been done away with in the first place. This can and should be an early priority for the Biden administration," Bristol added.
Nevertheless, this day will mark an important step for those who have vowed to protect the region's renewable resources, according to Carscallen.
"It's a really, really exciting step toward permanent protections," Carscallen said.
Reporting by Jes Hathaway
Photo courtesy of Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association