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Alaska’s controversial Pebble Mine fails to win a critical permit, likely killing it

Alaska’s controversial Pebble Mine fails to win a critical permit, likely killing it By Henry Fountain © The New York Times Co.

The Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, likely dealing a death blow to a long-disputed project that aimed to extract one of the world’s largest deposits of copper and gold ore, but which threatened breeding grounds for salmon in the pristine Bristol Bay region.

The fight over the mine’s fate has raged for more than a decade. The plan was scuttled under the Obama administration, only to find new life under President Donald Trump. But opposition from Alaska Native communities, environmentalists and the fishing industry never diminished, and recently even Donald Trump Jr., a sportsman who had fished in the region, opposed the project.

On Wednesday, it failed to obtain a critical permit required under the federal Clean Water Act that was considered a must for it to proceed. In a statement, the Corps’ Alaska District commander, Col. Damon Delarosa, said the mine, proposed for a remote tundra region about 200 miles from Anchorage, would be “contrary to the public interest” because “it does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines.” Opponents said the large openpit operation, which would dig up and process tens of millions of tons of rock a year, irreversibly would harm breeding grounds for salmon that are the basis for a sports-fishing industry and a large commercial fishery in Bristol Bay. Salmon are also a major subsistence food of Alaska Natives who live in small villages across the region. “The Corps’ denial of the permit for the Pebble Mine is a victory for common sense,” said Chris Wood, CEO of the conservation group Trout Unlimited. “Bristol Bay is the wrong place for industrial scale mining.”

Lindsay Layland, deputy director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, which has fought the project for years, said that although the decision means the project may be dead, the threat remains that the gold and copper ore could be mined in the future. “We need to continue to push for long-term and permanent protections down the road,” she said.

In a statement, John Shively, interim CEO of the project’s developer, Pebble Limited Partnership, said the partnership would “focus on sorting out next steps for the project, including an appeal of the decision.”

Shively described the Corps’ action as “politically driven,” particularly given that this year the Corps had approved an environmental impact statement that, he said, “clearly stated the project could successfully coexist with the fishery.”

The environmental impact statement was finalized in July by the Corps, which had authority to approve or deny a permit under the federal Clean Water Act. However, a few weeks later, the Corps said that the company’s plan to compensate for environmental damage from the mine was insufficient, and it requested a new plan.

 

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