President Biden Celebrates Pebble Veto: “The Mine Will Not Be Built.”
In the Rose Garden celebration of conservation achievements, President Joe Biden elevates the Pebble Mine veto—calling the Bristol Bay fishery “a marvel,” citing scientific consensus of unacceptable risk from large-scale mining, and thanking Alaska Natives and the broad-based coalition for their 20-year opposition to the proposed mine.
Gratitude. Relief. Joy. These emotions were everywhere on display in the White House Rose Garden last Thursday, May 11, 2023, when, in a celebration attended by 200 guests and hosted by President Joe Biden, the battle against the Pebble Mine took center stage.
Focusing on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) veto on January 31, 2023, of the embattled mining scheme under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, President Biden effusively thanked the audience of scores of tribal representatives and their families from the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, as well as conservation leaders from the Lower 48 states, including NRDC.
Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay—which represents 80 percent of the region’s residents—introduced the president, emphasizing the tribes’ decades-long battle against the Pebble Mine and thanking him for hearing their voices: “Our people stood up and fought back to protect what we hold sacred. President Biden heard our voices. He and his team listened to Bristol Bay and our many partners across the nation. And together, we stopped the Pebble Mine.”
President Biden described Bristol Bay as “an extraordinary place, unlike anywhere in the world,” with record salmon runs in the tens of millions that he called “a marvel.” He recounted some of the singular natural and economic values of the region which, once lost, would be impossible to regain “if containment dams engineered for the project should fail.”
After much study over time, the president continued, scientists concluded that there is “no way to do this project safely.” In the end, the EPA “used its authority under the Clean Water Act to ban the disposal of mine waste in the Bristol Bay watershed. Period.” This means “the mine will not be built.”
Noting the concerted efforts of “tribal leaders, commercial fishermen, hunters, anglers, and environmental advocates” in “the fight of [their] lifetime,” he summed up the purpose of the day’s celebration: “To everyone who had a role in saving Bristol Bay, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
President Biden then cited his protection of Bristol Bay as “an example of [his] commitment to conservation,” and, more broadly, he listed some of his exceptional conservation achievements since taking office: the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, which he noted are “the largest investments in climate, environmental justice, and conservation ever anywhere, period”; his America the Beautiful plan to “protect and conserve, by 2030, over 30 percent of our lands and waters”; the protection of more than 9 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, “the largest temperate rainforest in the world”; and the restoration of national monuments at Bears Ears, Grand Staircase–Escalante, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. And he announced that U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo has begun the process of designating 770,000 square miles southwest of Hawaii—“bigger than Alaska and California combined”—as a new national marine sanctuary.
On the critical importance of conservation, President Biden spoke with inspiring eloquence: “When we conserve our country’s natural gifts, we’re not only protecting the livelihoods of [the] people who depend on them….We’re also protecting what I consider to be the heart and soul of our national pride. Our country’s natural resources define our identity as a nation through the birthright we pass down from generation to generation. They literally unite us. That’s why our conservation work is so important. It provides a bridge to our past and to our future, not just for today but for all ages.” [Emphasis added.]
Not surprisingly, he mentioned the “extreme MAGA Republicans [who] have taken control of the House of Representatives and [are] holding our economy hostage by threatening to default on our national debt.” “Folks,” he said, “we can’t let that happen.”
He concluded with this: “I share with all of you an enduring reverence for the power and promise of this country’s extraordinary natural wonders. So let’s keep it going. We’re the United States of America. There’s nothing beyond our capacity if we work together.”
And “work together” is exactly what the United Tribes of Bristol Bay and its diverse coalition of support in Alaska and the Lower 48 states have done for years—and their relentless community of purpose has been essential to our collective success.
The Pebble Mine’s owner Northern Dynasty Minerals has promised to challenge the EPA’s veto in court, although its threat surprises no one. It has no other assets, its latest quarterly report raises “doubts about its ability to continue as a going concern,” and its survival now depends on legal action to overturn the EPA’s 404(c) veto.
Northern Dynasty is a company that has never listened and will never walk away. It's time for Congress to enact legislation granting permanent protection to Bristol Bay.
Congratulations to the entire coalition that has supported the tribes of Bristol Bay in their existential struggle against the Pebble Mine. Last week’s rare White House celebration and the words of President Biden confirm the extraordinary importance of our continuing campaign; of the natural, social, cultural, and economic values at risk; and of the EPA’s decision to protect them.
From NRDC and its three million members and activists, thank you, Mr. President.