When Pebble’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) came out last year, it was widely panned as a superficial nothing burger, designed simply to push the project to the next stage of the process. How bad was it? So bad that agencies reporting to Donald Trump and Mike Dunleavy had this to say:
- The Department of the Interior said the DEIS is so deficient that it “precludes meaningful analysis” and calls for a complete do-over of the DEIS. (Expert reviews, page 227)
- The National Marine Fisheries Service said Pebble’s salmon work is “limited, sparse, lack[s] scientific rigor, and do[es] not fully assess all salmon life stages,” and calls for an independent third party review of Pebble’s fish work, as well as additional salmon fieldwork. (Expert reviews, page 576)
- The State of Alaska said “further work is necessary to ensure potential effects to the human environment from each alternative are adequately evaluated and described in the (final EIS)”, and calls for a wide assortment of additional studies. (Expert reviews, page 440)
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said “we recommend that a permit not be issued for the project as currently proposed.” USFWS also recommended significant additional study, and said “We recommend more robust analysis be conducted to thoroughly identify, analyze, and reduce risks to these resources.” (Expert reviews, page 370)
The draft EIS was so bad in fact that the 2020 legislation to fund the Army Corps included a provision that said Congress
“shares the agencies’ concerns that the [Pebble] DEIS lacks certain critical information about the proposed project and related mitigation and therefore likely underestimates its potential risks and impacts. Sound science must guide Federal decisionmaking and all gaps and deficiencies identified in comments from Federal agencies and other stakeholders, including Alaska Natives, must be fully addressed, even if that requires additional scientific study, data collection, and more comprehensive analysis of the project’s potential impacts. Adverse impacts to Alaska’s world-class salmon fishery and to the ecosystem of Bristol Bay, Alaska are unacceptable.”
Even Senator Dan Sullivan – who typically falls in line with big oil, gas and mining corporations – waded into the fray:
The burden of proof is now on Pebble and the Corps to substantially address these concerns based on science as required by law…. This is a high bar and, as I’ve repeatedly said, we can’t trade one resource for another in that region…
Now, as the Army Corps prepares to release the final EIS for Pebble, the curtain is falling away to reveal the truth: The Army Corps has done little to address the egregious problems with Pebble’s environmental review, and it’s flat-out ignoring the congressional mandate to heed the expert state and federal agencies.
In response to a FOIA request, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation recently released a compilation of agency comments on the Pebble preliminary final EIS. Taken as a whole, the document is a scathing indictment of a project and a process working hard to throw science under the bus, and provides a clear window into a federal agency hell-bent on issuing a permit regardless of facts.
The compilation is chock-full of damning statements from scientists about how Pebble has failed to address impacts to fish and wildlife, wetlands and water quality. For example, here’s what the Alaska Department of Fish & Game had to say about brown bears:
“The PFEIS underestimates the magnitude and the extent of impacts to brown bears from the Amakdedori Port and the southern access road…The ADF&G believes impacts to bears, and bear related recreation (hunting and viewing) could be significant, given the information at hand.”
Inletkeeper took a reconnaissance trip to Amakdedori a couple years ago, and confirmed what few people recognize: Lower Cook Inlet and the proposed Pebble export site support the highest concentration of brown bears on the planet. Remarkably, Pebble refused to consider the incredible economic impacts of bear viewing, which drives more than $40 million into our local economy every year.
So, all the cards are on the table. Pebble is running on financial fumes, and it’s holding out hope that federal permits from the Army Corps this summer will lead to a rush on investments that will save the project. And the Army Corps thinks it can defy Congress – along with Alaska’s two U.S. Senators – and push through a review that ignores its sister agencies.
The outcome, of course, will be bigger than Pebble. That’s because the final decision will set a precedent that embraces facts and science and the rule of law. Or it will succumb to the swamp of high-priced lobbyists buying enough votes and influence to push a terrible project across the finish line.
And when you look around at the vast resource wealth of Alaska – and the potential for rampant, no-holds-barred development – it’s clear the stakes could not get any higher.