What do you get when you mix an estimated $300 billion worth of recoverable gold, copper and molybdenum together with a governmental system of application and permitting that is unreasonably influenced and corrupted by powerful special interests? An immortal, ecocidal incubus—otherwise known as Pebble Mine—that will, seemingly endlessly, force a broad, diverse coalition of native Alaskans, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, hunters, birders, hikers and lovers of wild places from all walks of life to present determined resistance against the foreign mining company seeking to build one of the world's largest open pit mines at the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
Yesterday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Pebble Mine, the still-proposed mine that would be built in one of the world's most seismically active regions and at the headwaters of the world's most productive salmon fishery—a fishery that happens to be a $1.5 billion economic engine for the state of Alaska. As many of you will no doubt recall, Pebble Mine was formally blocked by the EPA in 2014, after years of scientific examination, economic analysis, consultation with Alaskan communities, and comments from hundreds of thousands of Americans asking the government to preemptively stop the mine led the EPA to formally block mining in the region under the powers granted to it by the Clean Water Act. But, unsurprisingly, Pebble's prospects were resurrected from the dead by Donald Trump's scandal-plagued EPA, led by now disgraced special interest crony Scott Pruitt.
Since its release, the Corps of Engineers's DEIS has been ridiculed for its short-sightedness, incompleteness and the short timeline under which the government is accepting public comments on the materials—moves which critics have described as an intentional effort to rush the project forward without proper review.
Perhaps most egregiously, the DEIS fails to consider the entire scope of the proposed Pebble Mine project, which would see 11 billion tons of ore removed from the earth beneath the Kvichak and Nushagak's headwaters. Instead, the DEIS evaluates only the development required to extract the first 1.5 billion tons of ore, even though the mine's owner—Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty Minerals—has indicated it intends to mine the Pebble deposit to its full potential.
"Though already massive, Pebble’s current permit application under review by the Corps of Engineers considers only a small fraction of the overall impact the Pebble mine would ultimately have in Bristol Bay. Because of this, the review process for the proposed Pebble mine underway is woefully inadequate and should be halted," said Nelli Williams, Alaska director of Trout Unlimited. "A giant mine proposal slated for the heart of salmon country should never have advanced this far at all and is overwhelmingly opposed by Alaskans. It demands a far more rigorous review than the rushed, inadequate effort we’ve seen from the Corps of Engineers." Trout Unlimited also criticized the DEIS for containing incomplete fisheries and water data and for lacking proof of financial viability.
Brian Kraft, owner of Alaska Sportsman's Lodge in Bristol Bay and one of the most outspoken critics of the proposed Pebble Mine, also spoke out against the latest efforts to move the Pebble project forward. "Though we know if permitted, Pebble will mine the full deposit, even this initial mine plan makes clear that the Pebble Partnership cannot protect clean water and salmon in Bristol Bay, or the landscape conditions that attract anglers from around the globe. Because of this, Alaskans and Bristol Bay businesses have said NO to this mine for years. Pebble Mine would fundamentally alter a world-class fishery upon which family businesses and 37,000 recreational fishermen rely, and rivers that are slated to bring 40 million wild salmon to the region this year," Kraft said.
Williams and others, including Bristol Bay Native Corporation President & CEO Jason Metrokin, called for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend the unusually short public comment period, giving opportunity for adequate review. Metrokin stated, "Now is the time to ensure that Pebble Mine is thoroughly vetted, the public’s voice is heard, and Pebble Limited Partnership addresses the clear deficiencies in its application and plans in Bristol Bay. A 270-day comment period on the Draft EIS is the first—and necessary—step in holding the Pebble Limited Partnership accountable during the permitting process. Bristol Bay cannot become a laboratory to test unproven and unprecedented mining practices."