RECORDING, Alaka – The Trump administration virtually killed a disputed Alaskan mine on Wednesday, once in gold and copper exports, almost as deep as the Grand Canyon, and could generate enough waste to fill an NFL stadium nearly 3,900 times – both near the rivers of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.
The Army Engineering Board “concluded that the proposed project was against the public interest” and refused permission to build the gravel mine under both the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Ports Act, the agency said in a statement.
The rejection was a surprise. This runs counter to President Donald Trump’s efforts to encourage energy development in Alaska, including opening a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling and other national steps to reduce environmental protection that benefits the oil, gas and other industries.
The Engineering Board also seemed to have signaled a few months ago that the Pebble Mine, after nearly two decades of political struggle, was on a rapid path of approval, reversing what many had expected under Obama’s rule.
But unlike drilling elsewhere in Alaska, the proposed mine in the southwest Bristol Bay area could have negatively impacted the state’s billion-dollar fishing industry. Conservationists and even Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., sounded the alarm on the project before the administration changed direction again.
The CEO of Pebble Limited Liability Company, the mine’s developers, said it shocked the decision, especially after the corps indicated in a July environmental impact study that the mine and fishing could coexist.
“One of the real tragedies of this decision is the loss of economic opportunities for people in the neighborhood,” CEO John Shively said in a statement. The environmental review “clearly describes these benefits, and now a politically driven decision has distracted many from their hopes for a better life. This is also a missed opportunity for the future economy of the state. “
He said they are considering their next steps, which could include appealing the formation’s decision.
“Today, Bristol Bay residents and fishermen are celebrating the news that Pebble’s permission has been denied; we will return to work tomorrow. ”Said Katherine Carscallen, managing director of the Bristol Bay Commercial Fishermen Group.
The group wants Congress to pass laws to protect the region. “Over the past decade, we’ve learned the hard way that Pebble isn’t really dead until the protections are final,” Carscallen said.
In July, the Engineering Board issued an environmental review, which the mine developer saw as the basis for key federal approvals. The review said that in a normal operation, the gravel mine “is not expected to have a measurable impact on fish and will result in long-term changes in the health status of commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay”.
However, in August, the corps stated that it had determined that emissions from the mining area were “causing unavoidable adverse effects on water resources” and identified the necessary steps to mitigate those effects.
Canadian-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., owned by Pebble Limited Partnership, said it submitted a mitigation plan on November 16th.
Even if the project was approved by the corps, there was still no guarantee that it would have been built. This would have required state approval, and President-elect Joe Biden opposed the project.
Critics have seen Pebble Mine get a lifeline under the Trump administration. Last year, the Environment Agency lifted the development restrictions proposed under the Obama administration – but never finalized them – and said it wanted to work with the corps to address the concerns.
However, Trump’s older son was among those who voiced opposition earlier this year. After Trump’s campaign advisor Nick Ayers tweeted in August that he hoped the president would instruct the EPA to block the Pebble Mine, Trump Jr. replied, “As a sportsman who has spent a lot of time in the area, I agree 100%. The waters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fisheries are too unique and fragile to take any chances.
The president later said he was “listening to both sides”.
“The recognition of this victory is not for a single politician, but for the natives of Alaska and Bristol Bay, as well as hunters, anglers and wildlife fans from all over the country who spoke out in opposition to this dangerous and ill-conceived project.” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League.
Alaska’s two Republican U.S. senators, who support oil and gas development and mining, welcomed the denial of the gravel mine’s license. Senator Lisa Murkowski said the decision confirmed her position that mine was in the wrong place.
“It will help protect an irreplaceable resource – Bristol Bay’s world-class salmon fishery – on an ongoing basis,” he said.
Senator Dan Sullivan said he will continue to be an advocate for well-paying jobs from resource development.
“However, given the special nature of the Bristol Bay watershed and the bottom-up fishing and livelihood resources, Pebble had to meet a high bandwidth not to trade from one resource to another,” he said. – Pebble didn’t meet that bar.
Becky Bohrer of Juneau, a Associated Press journalist, contributed to the report.