House defense spending bill would block funding for Pebble Mine permit

(Photo by Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Flickr)

An amendment to the House version of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act would block funds from going to finalizing the permits for the controversial Pebble Mine project.

The amendment, introduced by a group of Lower 48 Democrats, specifically bars funding approved in the act from being used to issue a record of decision on the proposed project. The Army Corps of Engineers recently released its final environmental impact statement on the project, which many criticized as a flawed report intent on clearing the project.

In a letter to the Army Corps last year, amendment sponsor Rep. Jared Huffman, D-CA, and 53 other legislators said the mine “directly threatens indigenous peoples, our maritime economy, and thousands of American jobs that rely on Bristol Bay.”

The amendment was cheered by United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments that has been a steadfast opponent of Pebble Mine that has criticized the review process as rushed and flawed, in a release calling the mine a “toxic proposal.”

“Quyana and chin’an to the members of Congress who voted to defend Bristol Bay today,” said Alannah Hurley, the executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “After nearly two decades of working to protect our region from this toxic project, it is heartening to see leadership in Congress stand with us and refuse to allow a foreign mining company to desecrate the national treasure that is our home. Pebble and the Army Corps have ignored and tried to silence the voices of Bristol Bay throughout the permitting process, and we appreciate Congress hearing our pleas to intervene. It’s clear that Pebble has not met any standards in a normal NEPA process and ignored the directive that came from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle last year when they called on the Corps for a more rigorous environmental review. It’s time for Alaska’s Senators to listen to Alaskans and stop Pebble from moving forward.”

During floor debate on the amendment package, Young likened the amendment to rat droppings.

“The legislation we have been talking about has a lot of good merits, but I was on the floor last week talking about the mice that get into a good bill and destroy it by leaving residue behind. It appears to me now that there is a rat in this bill that is leaving a lot more behind,” he said. The sponsors of this amendment claim the administration is unraveling NEPA, but it is this amendment that would stymie the process, and it is disingenuous to want it both ways. … The people of Alaska have a right to have this decided by the book and free from interference by parties outside the State that seek to impose their wills or philosophies on the State and the people. … Let’s stop this rat infestation.”

Alaska’s Senate delegation has been somewhat more skeptical about the federal government’s process for Pebble Mine and have pushed for the Army Corps to address the concerns raised by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Both Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan say the project cannot trade the area’s world-class salmon fishery for the mine.

The amended Department of Defense Appropriations Act would still need to be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.

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