Just last month we reported that the US Army Corps of Engineers had approved the Environmental Impact Statement prepared in advance of the Pebble Mine, a proposed copper and metals mine in the Alaskan wilderness. This was the opening the mining company running the proposed project, Northern Dynasty, had been waiting for. Environmentalists and many Alaskan Indigenous tribes were outraged. The US Army Corps of Engineers, however, was satisfied that the mining plan “would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers,” in the pristine salmon fishery in Bristol Bay.
It seemed there would be no stopping the mine, just weeks ago, a project bitterly contested for decades.
But, suddenly, Republicans with President’s Trump ear weighed in against the decision. Most notably, his son Donald Trump Jr., a known hunter and angler, who Tweeted: “The headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chances with. #PebbleMine.”
Both of Alaska’s Senators spoke against the mine, too, shortly after the US Army’s EIS concluded the fishery wouldn’t be significantly harmed by the mine.
The about face from the US Army is whiplash-inducing.
“As currently proposed, the project could have substantial environmental impacts within the unique Bristol Bay watershed and lacks adequate compensatory mitigation,” the Army reported in a statement.
“Given these concerns, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finds under section 404 of the Clean Water Act that the project, as proposed, would likely result in significant degradation of the environment and would likely result in significant adverse effects on the aquatic system or human environment.”
The Army asks that, in order to proceed, Northern Dynasty provide a mitigation plan. However, because the area is so pristine, there’s nothing elsewhere to mitigate. No wetlands that need restoration exist in an area so remote and untouched.
“It’s an incubator for trillions of salmon over thousands of years, and the notion that Northern Dynasty has anything to offer it in terms of improvement is ridiculous,” said Joel Reynolds, Western director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The change in policy is especially strange, considering that while the Corps of Engineers is overseen by the US Army, the Army does not typically handle any press releases for the engineers. They have their own communications department.
Regardless, the mine is now dead in the water, again. Perhaps without a life preserver this time.
Top photo: EPA