EPA Close to Settling Lawsuit on Pebble Mine
The U.S. EPA and Northern Dynasty Minerals—the company behind the Pebble Mine proposed in Bristol Bay, Alaska—told a federal judge that they are close to settling litigation over the mine and expect to announce an agreement tomorrow.
At stake is an Obama-era Proposed Determination that, if finalized, would place restrictions on the mine.
The Trump administration clearly is not asking, but nonetheless I’ll provide my two cents’ worth of recommendations on a way forward:
1. Do not waste time and money withdrawing EPA’s 2014 Proposed Determination.
EPA began looking at the proposed Pebble Mine at the express invitation of the people of Bristol Bay, who were—and remain—concerned that the gigantic gold and copper mine would threaten the region’s legendary salmon. Salmon are the economic and cultural backbone of the region. EPA responded by (1) conducting a three-year, twice peer reviewed scientific study that confirmed the mine poses potentially “catastrophic” risks to the Bristol Bay watershed; and (2) issuing a Proposed Determination under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act that would place salmon and people-protecting restrictions on the mine. EPA’s Proposed Determination does not prevent Pebble from filing for permit applications. Northern Dynasty Minerals claims (and has been claiming for over a decade) that it intends to submit permits—so do it! The Proposed Determination and EPA’s accompanying scientific assessment will provide important context and information to the agencies evaluating the permits.
A separate administrative process that would be both time and resource-intensive is required to legally withdraw the Proposed Determination. Specifically, before making a final decision on whether to withdraw the Proposed Determination, EPA would be required to seek input from everyone who commented on the Proposed Determination. This includes more than 670,000 people—99 percent of whom supported EPA’s decision to issue the Proposed Determination. Seeking their input again is a waste of agency time and money—hopefully something the Trump administration will seek to avoid. Until Pebble submits a mine plan, any additional regulatory process surrounding the Proposed Determination is purely academic—and won’t actually resolve any of the outstanding issues. Better to leave the Proposed Determination in place until Pebble files a permit application and mine plan. This approach is similar to how EPA has resolved other 404(c) proposed determinations.
2. Listen to the people of Bristol Bay and Alaska—not a foreign mining corporation.
More than 65 percent of Alaskans, 80 percent of Bristol Bay residents and Native communities, and 85 percent of commercial fishermen oppose the Pebble Mine. Moreover, Alaska voters passed—with 65 percent of the vote or more in every precinct across the state—an initiative called “Bristol Bay Forever” in 2014. The initiative protects the Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale sulfide mining (like the proposed Pebble Mine) that would harm wild salmon. It requires an affirmative finding from the Alaska legislature that mining would not be harmful to wild salmon within the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.
A recent report issued by the independent New York-based investment firm Kerrisdale Capital Management found that “The mine’s local unpopularity, coupled with the added requirement of legislative approval, would put its future in grave danger even if it were commercially viable.” The Pebble Mine has little support—and major opposition.
To be clear, any announcement tomorrow does NOT mean the Pebble Mine is approved—or even any closer to getting all the legally-required approvals needed to build a mine. But it does signal whether the Trump administration is willing to prioritize American jobs over the profits of a foreign mining corporation.
Trump campaigned to “Make America Great Again.” The Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery is already great—in fact, it’s the greatest in the world. It’s a $1.5 billion annual sustainable fishery that supports 14,000 jobs. It supplies half of the world’s sockeye salmon. It has sustained indigenous communities for millennia. And it’s a bucket list destination for hunters and anglers.
America first. Pebble never.