Murkowski, Sullivan call on Pebble to make mitigation plan public

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

Alaska’s U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkwoski and Dan Sullivan joined many Alaskans in calling for the company behind the Pebble Mine project to release its proposed mitigation plan publicly.

“We write to request that Northern Dynasty immediately release that mitigation plan to the public so that Alaskans–particularly those who live in the Bristol Bay region–can properly evaluate and understand it,” the duo, who’ve recently staked out opposition to the project, said in a letter sent today.

Last week, Northern Dynasty Minerals announced it had submitted its mitigation plan for the Pebble Mine project, the latest step toward developing the deeply controversial project, but both it and the U.S. Army Corps of engineers have refused to make it public.

The plan is needed to offset damage to nearly 3,300 acres of wetlands and 185 miles of streams that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the mine could create. It’s also the last major step before a federal record of decision to either permit or reject the project.

After a review process that opponents said was favorable to the mine, the Army Corps changed course amid shifting White House politics and made approval of the project contingent on the project’s mitigation efforts. In an August statement, the Army Corps found the “project, as propose, would likely result in significant degradation of the environment and would likely result in significant adverse effects on the aquatic system or human environment.”

Opponents to the mine have continued to raise concerns about the seemingly friendly process employed by the Army Corps, criticism that has only intensified with the release of the “Pebble Tapes,” a series of recordings where mine executives bragged to investigators posing as investors about the project and their influence with both elected officials and regulators.  

Those tapes, which included embarrassing comments about Alaska’s U.S. Senators being cowed by the project, drove both Murkowski and Sullivan to explicitly state firm opposition to the project. Murkowski has also suggested that formal protection for the Bristol Bay watershed could be needed. They cite the tapes as part of the reason to drive the company to be more transparent about its mitigation plan.

“While we continue to oppose approval of the project based on the existing record, we believe Northern Dynasty must release its proposed mitigation plan for a simple reason: a significant portion of the public has lost trust in what its executives actually plan to do and how they expect to be able to win approval from federal regulators,” they wrote. “This dynamic was substantially worsened this fall with the release of the so-called ‘Pebble Tapes,’ secret recordings featuring you and Pebble’s former CEO speaking to would-be foreign investors who turned out to be undercover environmental investigators.”

The Army Corps has also refused to open a public comment period on the mitigation plan, which mine opponents say is an unacceptable effort to ignore the voices of people impacted by the project and should stop the mine in its tracks.

“It’s unacceptable that the people who would be most impacted by this project are not being given the opportunity to weigh in on Pebble’s mitigation plan,” said United Tribes of Bristol Bay Deputy Director Lindsay Layland. “The Army Corps has rushed this permitting process since day one, and this is just the latest attempt to ignore the people of Bristol Bay. Our salmon, economy and traditional ways of life are on the line if the proposed Pebble Mine is built, and there is no mitigating for the damage Pebble would do to our cultures and communities. It’s time for the EPA to veto this project and for our elected leaders to work with the people of the region to develop permanent protections for our home.”

Also at issue with Pebble Mine’s mitigation plan is the level of involvement from the State of Alaska under the helm of Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Several investigations have shown that Dunleavy has quietly been working with Pebble executives to lobby for the mine on the federal level, including with President Donald Trump.

The latest revelation, uncovered by public information requests by SalmonState, show that the Alaska Department of Natural Resources had been helping Pebble generate the mitigation plan.

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