We are finally experiencing the last ripples of Pebble mine. After decades of powerful advocacy, extensive salmon research, and strong tribal voices, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) vetoed the proposed copper mine threatening the headwaters of Bristol Bay in January 2023. We are still celebrating this long-anticipated moment and all those who played a role in this outcome.
However, it shouldn’t have been this hard or required so much money or disrupted so many lives for this mega project, proposed in the most productive sockeye salmon fishery in the world, to be turned down.
Stopping Pebble has required extraordinary resources, and that’s because our permitting systems are designed to say yes.
In fact, a veto from the federal permitting process is extremely rare. Pebble is only the 14th project over 50 years that has been vetoed by EPA through its 404(c) authority under the Clean Water Act. Yet, Alaska Gov. Dunleavy says he’s going to pursue legal action against EPA for the veto of the Pebble mine, because… “as governor, my job is to make sure that we take advantage of every opportunity.” 1
With this mindset, the governor and his appointed commissioners can’t imagine a project they don’t want developed. This leaves Alaska’s future solidly in the hands of foreign and multinational corporations and their investors. Whatever resource they want and wherever they want to go – if they bring investors – our governor is all for it.
Obviously, not every massive mining project is a good opportunity for Alaskans. But, until our governor and the permitting system allow for that reality, Alaska will continue to be sold to outside bidders with no respect for our land, waters, or values.
As the fear of Pebble fades, another mega project – the Donlin Gold mine – moves ahead.
The Donlin Gold mine would be the largest open-pit pure gold mine in the world. Significant infrastructure will be needed to support operations, including a 315-mile pipeline from Cook Inlet into the Kuskokwim basin, a waste rock facility, a tailings storage facility, a power plant and wastewater treatment plant. One of the first questions Inletkeeper had about this project was whether the state of Alaska can permit the gas pipeline Right-of-Way (ROW) without considering the impacts of the whole project first.
Inletkeeper has joined the sovereign nations of Orutsararmiut Native Council, Native Village of Eek, Native Village of Kwigillingok, and Chevak Native Village in a lawsuit filed in state court by Earthjustice. Our claim is that the Alaska Department of Natural Resources is required to look at the impacts of the whole project, including the mine itself, before issuing the ROW lease for the pipeline. Our case is being appealed to the State Supreme Court. If we prevail, it will set a vital precedent whereby state agencies will no longer be able to piecemeal their permitting decisions, but instead, will be required to take a hard look at all impacts likely to flow from an entire project.
Perhaps, if the implications of a massive mine were more fully realized at the beginning of the permitting process, even our governor would have to think twice about what’s best for Alaska and say NO to mega mines like the Donlin Gold project.
1 Alaska Public Media’s Talk of Alaska; 1/31/2023