Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
In its record of decision on the long-fought industrial gold and copper mining project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cited "Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act," the Anchorage Daily News reported.
"USACE determined that the applicant's plan for the discharge of fill material does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines and concluded that the proposed project is contrary to the public interest."
The decision was hailed by a chorus of conservation groups. "Sometimes a project is so bad, so indefensible, that the politics fall to the wayside and we get the right decision," said SalmonState executive director Tim Bristol. "That is what happened today."
"The Pebble Mine was always the wrong mine in the wrong place," said Adam Kolton, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League. "The fact that President Trump resurrected and promoted it prior to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ultimately denying the permit isn't worth dwelling on," he said, referring to the president's intervention in the matter.
"What matters today," Kolton continued, "is that the world's most productive salmon fisheries are safer and the tribes, fishermen, and communities that depend on a healthy Bristol Bay can breathe a sigh of relief."
World Wildlife Fund previously released a video explaining "why the proposed mine doesn't stand up to a fact check." The group described Bristol Bay as "the lifeblood that sustains every species calling the region home," including harbor seals, hundreds of bird species, and brown bear. The watershed is also critically important to tribes and the salmon upon which they've relied for millenium. Bristol Bay also hosts the planet's most productive salmon fishery.
With such impacts at stake, Marc Fink, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the rejection "a huge victory for wild salmon, the Iliamna, lake seal, and other imperiled wildlife that call this spectacular place home."
The administration's rejection follows the September release of secret recordings between Tom Collier, CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, and Ronald Thiessen, president and CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals, which owns Pebble, that revealed the goal was not a 20-year project the 20-year operation publicly promised by the developers, but instead to create a project of "unstoppable" growth with a timeline of possibly 200 years. The executives instead were looking at "unstoppable" growth and a timeline of possibly 200 years.
The recordings elicited concern from the House Transportation Committee chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.), who wrote last week to Pebble Limited Partnership and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"From the private discussions revealed by the 'Pebble Tapes,' it seems as though Pebble was dealing with two sets of facts," wrote DeFazio and Napolitano,"one to lure potential investors to the Pebble project and one to alleviate fears of Alaskan Natives, the U.S. Congress, and federal agencies of potential adverse environmental impacts from the mine."
In his statement on Wednesday, Kolton added, "The credit for this victory belongs not to any politician but to Alaskans and Bristol Bay's Indigenous peoples, as well as to hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts from all across the country who spoke out in opposition to this dangerous and ill-conceived project. We can be thankful that their voices were heard, that science counted, and that people prevailed over short-term profiteering."
Bonnie Gestring, Northwest Program director at Earthworks, accused Pebble of having "tried every trick in the book to push this project through, but the crystal clear science prevailed."
President-elect Joe Biden, for his part, has promised to reject the Pebble Mine.
Gestring urged the incoming administration to "take the next step and use the Clean Water Act to place permanent limits on mining in Bristol Bay to protect the salmon fishery and the communities that depend on it."
Her demand was echoed by Joel Reynolds, senior attorney with the Nature Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
"The next step is for the Environmental Protection Agency to use section 404c of the Clean Water Act to permanently protect this national treasure from large scale mining for all time," said Reynolds.