Army Corps lets science and common sense prevail over politics
On Nov. 25, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) notified the Pebble Limited Partnership and the public that they had denied the application for the permit for the Pebble Mine project. The Corps said the project would not comply with the Clean Water Act and would be “contrary to the public interest.” The record of decision goes into the details of why they made the decision they did.
This is excellent news and a possible fatal wound to the Pebble project. Given the history of the project, one has to wonder whether any investors would be willing to finance this project.
The Corps also provided a memo for the record summarizing their findings for the compensatory mitigation plan. The memo listed nine elements required to be included in a complete compensatory mitigation plan. The plan submitted by Pebble was found to be noncompliant with all nine elements. You can download and read the Corps memo here.
Following the announcement, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan issued a joint statement. Murkowski said:
After years of review and analysis, the Army Corps has found that this project is ‘contrary to the public interest,’ ending consideration of its permit application and affirming that this is the wrong mine in the wrong place. I thank the agency and the broader Trump administration for completing a rigorous, impartial, and science-based process to determine the best course of action. This is the right decision, reached the right way. It should validate our trust and faith in the well-established permitting process used to advance resource development projects throughout Alaska. It will help ensure the continued protection of an irreplaceable resource – Bristol Bay’s world-class salmon fishery – and I hope it also marks the start of a more collaborative effort within the state to develop a sustainable vision for the region.
I welcome the Army Corps’ Record of Decision to deny the permit. The Pebble Limited Partnership had its opportunity to present a project that could meet the high environmental standards in Alaska that we demand. Today, the Army Corps has made the correct decision, based on an extensive record and the law, that the project cannot and should not be permitted. Resource development is one of the key industries that drives Alaska’s economy and provides thousands of hard-working Alaskans with good-paying jobs and opportunity for the future. I will continue to be a strong advocate for these resource-development jobs and economic opportunities in our state. However, given the special nature of the Bristol Bay watershed and the fisheries and subsistence resources downstream, Pebble had to meet a high bar so that we do not trade one resource for another. As I have been saying since August, Pebble did not meet that bar and, accordingly, the Corps rightly denied the permit. Throughout this process, I’ve emphasized to senior federal officials and Alaskans that this decision needed to be based on science and data, not politics. I want to thank the Army Corps and the Trump administration for acting accordingly, giving this permit a fair hearing through the regular process, and ultimately following the law and the record to deny the permit.
The Pebble Partnership CEO, John Shively, issued the following statement regarding the decision by the Corps, referred to in the statement as USACE, to deny a permit for the Pebble project:
We are obviously dismayed by today’s news given that the USACE had published an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in July that clearly stated the project could successfully co-exist with the fishery and would have provided substantial economic benefit to the communities closest to the deposit. One of the real tragedies of this decision is the loss of economic opportunities for people living in the area. The EIS clearly describes those benefits, and now a politically driven decision has taken away the hope that many had for a better life. This is also a lost opportunity for the state’s future economy – especially at a time when Alaska is seeing record job losses from the impacts associated with Covid.
The Pebble Deposit contains minerals such as copper that are in the national interest as they will be necessary to support the nation’s transition to more renewable sources of energy and a lower carbon future. President-elect Biden has stated that increasing domestic copper production will be an important step in meeting these goals.
Since the beginning of the federal review, our team has worked closely with the USACE staff to understand their requirements for responsibly developing the project including changing the transportation corridor and re-vamping the approach to wetlands mitigation. All of these efforts led to a comprehensive, positive EIS for the project that clearly stated it could be developed responsibly. It is very disconcerting to see political influence in this process at the eleventh hour.
For now, we will focus on sorting out next steps for the project including an appeal of the decision by the USACE.
It’s pretty rich of Shively to cry political influence at this point, given all we know about Pebble’s actions around this project. We will have to wait and see what they do after sorting out the next steps.
In their joint statement, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan made it clear they support the Army Corps’ decision to deny the permit. Should Pebble try and resurrect this project, their statements of opposition will be put to the test.
There is good reason to believe this project will not happen. Still, history has shown that the backers are seemingly relentless in their desire to push forward. We will continue to watch closely and keep you informed.
Top photo: Fly-fishing in Bristol Bay, courtesy of World Wildlife Fund