When someday the story of the Pebble Mine is told, 2014 may be best remembered as the year when all that remained of the once formidable Pebble Partnership was a bunch of lawyers for hire. By the end of 2014, all of the mining giants and their funding—Mitsubishi, Anglo American, and Rio Tinto—were gone, leaving only Northern Dynasty Minerals to keep the reckless vision of the Pebble Mine alive. The Partnership's new CEO is a lawyer from the Washington, D.C. law firm of Steptoe and Johnson, and mining activities have ground to a halt.
By the end of 2014, Pebble's public face had become lawsuits and lobbying against EPA, targeting its authority to do what Alaskans had petitioned it to do—i.e., to protect Alaska's wild salmon fishery. Three lawsuits had been filed against the agency, and legislation to constrain the agency's review of the Pebble project had been introduced in both houses of Congress.
Once again, permit applications—promised by Pebble for years—were never filed.
Some of the highlights of 2014:
- In January, after a four-year public process, EPA issued its final Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment—the product of comprehensive scientific study, multiple peer reviews, and extensive public participation—and the agency confirmed the opponents' worst fears about the devastation the project would cause. Citing EPA's findings, Alaska Senator Mark Begich promptly announced his opposition to the Pebble Mine—"wrong mine, wrong place."
- In February, EPA formally initiated the Clean Water Act process to prohibit or restrict the Pebble Mine—called "404(c)"—requested in 2010 by Alaskan tribes and, in the years since, supported overwhelmingly by the public in repeated public comment periods.
- In April, instead of taking over the Pebble Mine as Northern Dynasty Minerals had hoped, mining giant Rio Tinto announced that it was ending its participation in the project. It donated its 19 percent interest in the project—shares in Northern Dynasty—to two Alaskan charities, which promptly began selling the shares. The following week, NRDC and a coalition of Alaskan leaders went to London to convey thanks and congratulations personally to Rio Tinto's board and CEO at the annual general meeting.
Nunamta Aulukestai's Kim Williams, Rio CEO Sam Walsh, NRDC's Joel Reynolds, Rio Chair Jan de Plessis, Rio Director of Copper Jean-Sebastien Jacques, Yupik Elder Bobby Andrew
President Obama announcing permanent protections for Bristol Bay from oil and gas development. WhiteHouse.gov/YouTube
The opposition to the Pebble Mine has continued unabated in 2014—locally and nationally. But no one should expect the project to go quietly into the night as long as Pebble can pay its lawyers to subvert the will of the people of Alaska.
Stay the course. Take action—again—to stop the Pebble Mine.
Photo: Robert Glenn Ketchum