Army Corps backs off Pebble Mine approval following bipartisan pushback over impacts to Bristol Bay

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

Following a widespread and bipartisan opposition campaign that culminated with right-wing pundits lending their support, the federal government announced today that it’s backing off the controversial Pebble Mine and that it cannot be permitted “as currently proposed.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had fast-tracked the project over concerns from local communities, fishermen, scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency and Alaska’s congressional delegation. Today, it reversed course admitting that the as-proposed project doesn’t adequately address the “substantial environmental impacts with the unique Bristol Bay watershed.”

“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,” said the Army Corps in a statement, adding, “Therefore, the Corps finds that the project, as currently proposed, cannot be permitted under section 404 of the Clean Water Act.”

According to a report by the Anchorage Daily News, the Corps has given the Pebble Partnership 90 days to provide a plan that would offset the damage from all direct and indirect impacts of the mine. That’s some 2,825 acres of wetland, 133 acres of open water and 130 miles of streams.

Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan released statements supporting the decision to delay the permitting of the project.

“After years of extensive process and scientific study, federal officials have determined the Pebble project, as proposed, does not meet the high bar for large-scale development in Bristol Bay,” Murkowski said. “I agree that a permit should not be issued.”

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent whose district includes Bristol Bay, released a statement thanking Murkowski among others for helping oppose the mine.

“he Corps of Engineers Letter of Significant Degradation issued today on the Pebble Mine is the right thing to do. In addition to the thousands of Alaskans who for years voiced their concerns over the project, I’d like to thank Senator Lisa Murkowski for her work to insist federal agencies are held to the highest possible standards,” he said. “I also want to express gratitude to the late Bob Gilliam for his years of advocacy that helped lay the groundwork for today’s decision.”

The action comes after growing talks that the Trump administration was beginning to have second thoughts on the mine following high-level opposition from Republican sportsmen like Eric Trump, Jr. and Tucker Carlson, who two weeks ago aired a segment against the mine.

“Interestingly, in most environmental controversies, there is a clean partisan split: Republicans are on one side, Democrats are on the other. But this is not so clear,” he said on air. “Suddenly you are seeing a number of Republicans, including some prominent ones, including some very conservative ones, saying, ‘Hold on, maybe Pebble Mine is not a good idea, maybe you should do whatever you can not to despoil nature, and maybe not all environmentalism is about climate.'”

Alaska’s statewide officials have generally been skeptical about the generally unpopular project, however the Alaska Republican Party released a full-throated support of the project claiming the project could be developed responsibly while Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has been working behind the scenes to boost the project while trying to maintain a publicly neutral stance on the project.

Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens told CoastAlaska Radio last week that the posture of the Alaska GOP is more reflective of the urban leadership of the party and not all Republicans, particularly those from rural communities that rely on the fishing industry.

It seems to me that that’s sort of a consensus of urban Republicans, but it certainly does not represent the attitude of my Senate District,” Stevens said on Tuesday As a lifelong Republican, I generally support the GOP, but their position — the central committee’s position — on Pebble Mine is something I cannot support.”

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