After a roller coaster of a year where the Pebble Mine project went from seemingly inevitable to stymied by an unusual political alliance to somewhere in between, the Army Corps of Engineers put the project on ice today when it announced it had denied the project’s permit.
In a statement, the Army Corps said through a “regulatory process that is fair, flexible and balanced” it found the “applicant’s plan for the discharge of fill material does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines and concluded that the proposed project is contrary to the public interest.”
The proposed massive open pit mine had looked likely to get approval this year as the Trump Administration, lobbied by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, sped through the approval process over objections from locals, the fishing industry, Alaska Native tribes and conservation groups. The groups argued the mine would cause irreversible damage to the Bristol Bay fishery and argued that the Army Corps’ process was unfair, inflexible and unbalanced.
Things looked near-certain when the Army Corps approved the project’s environmental impact statement saying it would not permanently harm the fishing industry, but that’s when the bad news started rolling in for the project and the White House’s attitude on the project shifted.
In August, Donald Trump Jr., who has spent time in the Bristol Bay area, tweeted his opposition to the mine as several conservative sportsmen mounted last-minute opposition to the project. Later that month, the Army Corps released a statement saying that the project as proposed couldn’t be permitted without additional mitigation efforts.
Then came the Pebble Tapes, a series of recordings where mine executives bragged about everything from political influence with elected officials and regulators to a far-larger and far-longer scope for the project. The tapes were so damning that Pebble CEO Tom Collier resigned and U.S. House Democrats launched an investigation into the project.
Still, the future of the project was up in the air pending the mine’s additional mitigation efforts. The project submitted its plan last week but neither it nor the Army Corps have publicly released the measure despite mounting pressure to do so.
And even that wasn’t without its controversy. A public records request by SalmonState found communications between the mine and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources that suggested the state was less-than-neutral on the project and was actively helping it develop its mitigation plan.
Today’s decision by the Army Corps deals the project a severe blow, sending the stock of parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals down by more than 50%. Opponents to the mine say it’s a new opportunity to enact long-lasting measures against the mine.
“Sometimes a project is so bad, so indefensible, that the politics fall to the wayside and we get the right decision,” said Tim Bristol, the SalmonState executive director, in a prepared statement. “That is what happened today. But denial of a permit does not mean Bristol Bay is safe from the threat of the Pebble Mine. The critical next step is to reestablish the Clean Water Act protections for America’s greatest salmon fishery — protections that should have never been done away with in the first place. This can and should be an early priority for the Biden Administration.”