All that every creature on the planet wants is to be accepted, appreciated, and protected merely for being who they are. But even that is so very difficult for humans to concede. Half of the wild sockeye salmon population comes from the Bristol Bay Area. And the tens of millions of wild salmon that undertake the epic migration to the Bristol Bay Headwaters from the oceans are at risk from the Pebble Mine.
Around 40 to 50 million wild salmon make the incredible journey. But the massive gold and copper mine proposed in the area would decimate the wild salmon habitat. It would cause immense harm to the remarkably productive ecosystem.
Bringing In The Pebble Mine Would End The Delicately Balanced Ecosystem
It was feared that the pebble mine would have an adverse and undesirable impact on Bristol Bay watershed. Even partial and conservative Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS) for the plan of the Pebble Mine has estimated that over 105 miles of pristine streams and 3,000 acres of virgin wetlands would get destroyed. This is even if even 13% of the ore is up for mining.
Executives at Pebble Mines acknowledged that the mine if completed, will be larger and in operation for more than 180 years.
Joe Chythlook, the chairman of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, said that the Corporation was committed to protecting the land of Bristol Bay for both current and future generations. They were dedicated to guarding the sustainable natural resources of the region. Developing the mines would endanger the fishery in the Bristol Bay Area, especially the world-famous salmon run which stands at the heart of subsistence in the area.
The Wrong Mine In The Wrong Place: Late Senator Ted Stevens On Pebble Mine Operation In Bristol Bay
Bristol Bay has supported its people for a generation. Chythlook said that their opposition to permitting Pebble Mines was in line with the values of economic and cultural sustainability.
Jason Metrokin, the CEO and President of the Corporation reiterated that they were not opposed to mining per se. the size, area of operation, and location made Pebble Mine unacceptable. Its operation would risk the wild salmon resources and also the economic interests and subsistence lifestyle of the people.
The projected Pebble Mine would lead to a pit lake containing over 61B gallons of toxic mine water. It would continue to produce billions of liters of polluted mining output each year that would have to be perpetually treated.
The building and operation of a 230-megawatt power plant would be a grave danger to the ecosystem of the Bristol Bay Area. There were also plans to lay nearly 190 miles of gas pipeline that would go overland and through the Iliamna Lake and Cook Inlet.
Iliamna Lake is the biggest freshwater lake in Alaska. The construction of a barge structure across for the transportation of mine concentrate would cause havoc to the delicate ecosystem of the lake.
The permission to Pebble Mine to go ahead with its ore extraction operations would have led to the setting up of non-renewable resources at the expense of salmon fishery in the Bristol Bay area, which is a renewable and sustainable resource.
The ore would have been shipped to Asia and the profits transferred to an external mining entity while Bristol Bay would have suffered debilitating damage to its environment.
In its place, support for the Bristol Bay watershed would mean the upkeep of the clean water and the wild salmon population. It is a choice between perpetual salmon or perpetual pollution.
The plan to operate the massive open-pit mine was temporarily stopped when opponents of the project managed to put a halt from making any headway with the project.
The Pebble Mine Project Was Based On Hidden Figures And Untenable Facts
But the retrograde Trump administration gave a new lease of life to the Pebble Mine, and it filed a fresh application for a permit with the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
Even before the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the future of the Pebble Mine operation was in jeopardy already, as the Trump administration was forced to backtrack after vociferous protests, even from within his own Republican Party members and his son. Prominent conservatives, including Tucker Carlson, host of Fox News, come out strongly against it.
The company behind Pebble Mine tried to sneak in with an untenable promise of a ‘smaller mine. This was possible under the corrupted Trump administration’s coziness with shady business entities. They tried to go around the Clean Water Act regulations with fabricated figures and assurances.
Both the draft and the final Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS and FEIS) released by the Army Corps were rushed and off-track with the extensive and destructive impact that would have been caused by the project that would have lasted generations.
The report made an unintelligible prediction that fishing, especially the wild salmon, in the Bristol Bay Area, would remain untouched. Both the EIS, draft and final, failed to present vital details of the irreversible damage the Pebble Mine operation would cause to the environment in the area.
The analysis was based on projected figures for 20 years. It hid details of the expansion of operations later. But Pebble Mine had been telling its investors.
Investigators caught Pebble Mine executives admitting on tape that they expected to manage the Trump administration to continue operations for 180 years. The proposal on the environmental impact on the other hand mentioned only 20 years.
The CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals was heard on tape saying that once the operation of this nature was underway, it was difficult to stop them.
The Army Corps halted an important permit for the proposed Pebble Mine on November 25 last year. it found that the establishment of the mine in the fragile region would lead to considerable degradation to the local environment. It said that it would go against local interests. This position was in line with EPA’s made under the Obama administration.
Local Hostility To Mining Operations At Bristol Bay Tipped The Scales
The most affected would have been the native Alaskan communities of Bristol Bay, who had from the beginning vociferously opposed the Pebble Mine. They were supported by the local non-native communities whose livelihood depends on commercial fishing, especially the wild salmon.
The opponents to the Pebble Mine came back after the latter tried to sneak in through the back door with fudged figures. The decision of the Trump administration to give a fresh look at the mining proposals was vociferously opposed.
A diverse group consisting of natives groups from Alaska, environmentalists, tour operators, and local and commercial fishermen went to Anchorage’s Dena’ina Convention Center in protest. They marched in to testify against the proposed Pebble Mine.
They realized that this could be their only chance to confront the Army Corps directly before they went ahead with the proposal to grant permission to the mine. The permission seemed very likely at that stage.
Pebble Mine: A Mining Operation Built Upon Dubious Claims And Misrepresentation
They were up against veteran career lobbyist Tom Collier, who was in the payroll of Pebble Mine, earning around $1.5M, plus a promised bonus of around $12.5M if he could get the requisite permission for the mine in the Bristol Bay watershed. Pebble Mine had spent $11M in all on such lobbyists with questionable ethics.
Republican Congressmen Richard Pombo and Lamar Smith had also been paid off by the mining corporation. But Collier had been their best bet and had been made the CEO of Pebble Mine. He began by using the EPA to maintain that it had no authority to curb mining operations in the Bay. He also publicly attacked the EPA, abusing them blatantly over the Clean Water Act authority of the body.
Conservative media supported the Republican-led charade that even launched an inquiry into the background and the authority of the action taken by the EPA.
Even though the court case was dismissed by the courts, Collier replied with a second suit. This time he questioned the science and the process followed by the EPA in the assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed.
Collier alleged that EPA has contacted mining opponents without going a for an advisory committee. An injunction was temporarily placed by a judge in Anchorage, effectively preventing the EPA from finalizing the proposed restrictions.
Pebble Mine’s gameplay was to bury the EPA under multiple discovery requests. Close to two dozen staff of EPA were at one time tied up merely responding to frivolous discovery requests.
But all along they had been talking to the regulators of a small mine in Bristol Bay, while they talked to the investors of a big mine. It has not been clear when the Pebble Mine authorities had been speaking the truth.
It is apparent, say, critics, that even a cursory glance will make it clear that mining is never a 20-year operation. For any company to make a profit, it would need to operate over a much longer time frame.
It is apparent that Pebbles Partnership realizes that it will be easier to get their way with smaller permits covering a small period.
Natural Resources Defense Council’s Joel Reynolds says that the footprint of the proposed mine was massive, 4 times larger than claimed by Collier, or which the EPA said it was willing to consider permitting.
He said claims that pollutants would be contained effectively were not true and could never be feasible.
The Corps was also criticized by the Interior Department for basing their judgment on unsupported and subjective claims of the Pebble Partnership. They said that the inadequacy of the draft disqualifies any meaningful analysis.
The EPA too has gone against the preliminary conclusion made by the Corps in deciding on the mining operations. They have said that setting up the mine would lead to unacceptable and substantial adverse levels of impact on fishing operations in the watershed.
Even Republican, such as Lisa Murkowski, senator from Alaska, has expressed concerns about the assessment made by the corps. She said that the draft statement had failed to meet her standards of a rigorous and robust process.
But the strongest criticism of Collier’s proposal of a smaller plant operating for 20 years is that it has been hiding the true plans of Pebble Partnership for the Bristol Bay deposit.
Economic Feasibility Of The Mine
Critics of the mining project say that the mine would have to expand operations ultimately to make any profit. Being situated in a remote area, it would need to make massive upfront investments in the natural gas pipeline, power plants, roads running hundreds of miles, ferry terminals, ice-breakers, and ports capable of handling big ships.
Other investments include water treatment facilities and tailing dams. These investments would never be recovered in a mere two decades. Pebbles Partnership has spoken of a profit of $1 billion.
But mining experts say the claims are ridiculous. Richard Borden, permitting expert with over 20 years of experience with Rio Tinto, one of the biggest mining operators on earth, foresees a loss of around $3B.
He said that Pebble Partnership was not declaring, or under-declaring initial costs.
The Fight Isn’t Over Yet
The fight against Pebble Partnership will continue, in Bristol Bay. Reynold of NDRC says that there is every likelihood that they would have to go to court, and they are ready for that. While the EPA has the authority to veto or limit the scope of the permit.
The latest announcement by the Biden administration seeking the restoration of the protection for Bristol Bay could be the final nail in the mining project.
A spokesperson of the Pebble Limited Partnership has again stressed that the mine would be beneficial for the clean energy targets set by the Biden administration. They said that they plan to work through the appeal process formally through the Army Corps of Engineers.
They have pointed out that as the new administration wants lower emissions norms in energy production, they should accept that more production of copper would be required. They want to stress that permitting the mines would only help the Biden administration meet its green energy goals.
Whatever the plants of Pebbles, it remains rife with issues. It doesn’t have a well-set plan for water storage and treatment, its impact on salmon and other fish species that migrate upriver to spawn, its plans for compensatory migration, and dam and tailing design, to name but a few.