In Major Reversal, Trump Administration Stalls Pebble Mine
WASHINGTON – The Army Corps of Engineers today said the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay, Alaska, would inflict “unavoidable adverse impacts” and lead to “significant degradation” to water and marine life. The agency gave its backers 90 days to come up with a mitigation plan for the proposed gold and copper mine.
The following is a statement from Joel Reynolds, senior attorney with the Nature Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council:
“Real mitigation is death for Pebble Mine, because it’s impossible to mitigate the damage this project would inflict on Bristol Bay, its Tribes, and the people whose livelihoods and well-being depend on it.
“Pebble Mine would destroy five and a half square miles of wetlands and open waters and harm nearly 200 miles of pristine streams. Now that the Corps has finally set the bar that the Clean Water Act and science require, Northern Dynasty can’t meet it.
“The EPA should veto Pebble and put a stop to this nightmare once and for all.”
Just one month ago, the Army Corps issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that all but approved Pebble Mine, disregarding overwhelming local opposition and the broad consensus of the scientific community, concludes that the mine will yield “no measurable harm” to the fishery.
Bristol Bay is home to the world’s most productive salmon fishery, which generates $1.5 billion in annual revenue and 14,000 jobs. Salmon have also sustained the subsistence culture of Alaska Natives for millennia.
The Corps’ FEIS lacked critical information, underestimated the risks to water and fish, and was insufficient to support compliance with the Clean Water Act. The FEIS also substituted a proposed transportation route – eliminating an earlier plan to ferry across Iliamna lake, in favor of a new northern route over land. Notably, the new route cuts through land owned by several Bristol Bay entities that refuse to grant Pebble access to their properties.
The Army Corps told Pebble today that it is developing a Record of Decision (ROD). As part of the ROD, the Corps made determinations under the Clean Water Act that discharges at the mine site and associated with other aspects of the mine would cause unavoidable damage. It required Pebble to mitigate damage by restoring, reestablishing, rehabilitating, establishing/creating, enhancing and/or preserving wetlands, streams or other aquatic resources. The agency requires Pebble to provide in-kind compensatory mitigation for “all direct and indirect impacts caused by discharges into aquatic resources” at the mine site (2,825 acres of wetlands, 132.5 acres of open waters, and 129.5 miles of streams), and for unavoidable adverse impacts associated with the transportation corridor and the port site (460 acres of wetlands, 231.7 acres of open waters, and 55.5 miles of streams.)
The Environmental Protection Agency also has the authority under the Clean Water Act, Section 404(c), to veto the project. EPA first initiated the 404(c) process to protect Bristol Bay from Pebble Mine in 2011 at the express request of Bristol Bay Tribes, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the commercial and sport fishing industries, conservation organizations and others. Under the Obama administration, and after three years of scientific study that included two independent peer reviews, EPA issued a proposed determination under 404(c) in 2014 that would have placed common sense restrictions on the mine. In a purely political move not supported by reason or science, EPA withdrew the proposed determination last year—choosing instead to rely on the Army Corps’ permitting process. NRDC has today called once again for EPA to take action under section 404(c) to veto the Pebble Mine.
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