Pebble: When NO means NO
Since day one, your opposition to the Pebble open pit mine in the headwaters of the richest sockeye fishery in the world has run strong. You showed up to public […]
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Since day one, your opposition to the Pebble open pit mine in the headwaters of the richest sockeye fishery in the world has run strong. You showed up to public hearings, you wrote comments, you voted at the ballot box. The message was always clear: the risks are too high, our salmon systems are too valuable, and Alaskans do not want the Pebble Mine.

For a long time, indigenous grassroots organizers in Bristol Bay led the movement to protect their way of life. Then, commercial fishermen from Seattle to Sitka to Unalaska joined the fight to protect the sustainable and renewable economy based on the last great wild sockeye salmon run on earth. Today, Alaskans from around the state have recognized that this fight to stop the Pebble Mine is a fight for our future – a future with healthy wild salmon ecosystems.

In 2015, President Obama visited Bristol Bay, and saw first-hand the world-class resources at stake. In response, after reviewing years of science and studies, his EPA issued a draft watershed assessment that concluded that a mine like Pebble would have irreversible impacts on the region’s salmon runs. The watershed assessment was a powerful tool, because if and when EPA finalized it, the Pebble project could not receive the Clean Water Act permit it needed to move forward.

Then in 2016, the Trump Administration came barreling in, and with it, a new EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt. Pruitt had cut his teeth as a staunch opponent of the Clean Water Act, and he frequently locked arms with the Koch Brothers and other corporations hell-bent on dismantling our environmental safety net.

On May 1, Pruitt met with Tom Collier, the savvy insider who’s now CEO of the Pebble Partnership. Just hours after that meeting, Pruitt ordered his EPA staff to settle legal claims raised by Pebble against the Obama watershed assessment, and to get the project back on track. The sheer speed and audacity of Pruitt’s move – ignoring millions of public comments opposed to Pebble – left many breathless.

photo | Pat Clayton, Fisheye Guy Photography

Then, a blip. In January 2018, Pruitt seemed to backtrack, issuing a statement that re-instated Obama’s watershed assessment, and he appeared to recognize the prized resources threatened by a large open pit mine in Bristol Bay. But while Pruitt said some nice things, the devil – as always – is in the details. When you look at Pruitt’s horrendous track record, coupled with his ideological fervor to dismantle environmental protections, it’s worth taking a closer look at what EPA said when it reinstituted the tougher rules around Pebble.

“Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection. Today’s action allows EPA to get the information needed to determine what specific impacts the proposed mining project will have on those critical resources.”

EPA, however, already collected and analyzed an enormous amount of information in the watershed assessment wetlands determination.

So, on close reading, it appears Pruitt’s EPA doesn’t have the information IT WANTS to undermine the previous analysis right now, which they need to survive legal challenge. That’s because the Obama EPA relied on facts and science to guide its decision making, and Pruitt cannot simply wave a wand and make it all disappear. So, one clear-eyed perspective has Pruitt’s EPA slowing things down so the agency can concoct an alternative storyline that they hope might get past a judge.

Seem crazy? Here’s what Northern Dynasty said in response to Pruitt’s decision:

“We have every confidence that Pebble’s ultimate project design will meet the rigorous environmental standards enforced in Alaska and the US,” said Ron Thiessen, president and CEO of Northern Dynasty. He said the permitting process “will demonstrate that compliance through an open, objective, transparent and science-driven review.”

So, here we are again. The Army Corps is now moving forward with the key Clean Water Act wetlands permit Pebble needs to proceed, and it will hold public hearings and collect comments in the coming months. And we have to show up. Again.

Alaskans –and Americans who also value wild Alaskan salmon – have overwhelmingly said “no.” Not once, not twice, but many times since Pebble reared its ugly head in 2004. Yet the corporations behind Pebble know that once they get into the permitting system, they’ll emerge on the backside with what they need to dig a giant hole in the headwaters of Bristol Bay. Because the permitting system is designed to issue permits, nothing more, nothing less. And it never – ever – denies a permit, especially when the stakes are this high.

Clearly, our system to protect wild salmon habitat is broken. If it weren’t, our agencies and decision makers would be listening to the millions of people who support healthy wild salmon fisheries in Bristol Bay. They would listen to the science that clearly shows the impacts are too great, and the risks are too high for a project like Pebble at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

Sometimes the answer is just “no.” As children, we hate to hear the word “no.” As adults, we learn to accept that “no” means “no.” Regrettably, the Pebble Mine proponents are the small child trying to convince someone new that “no” means “yes.” And we have to be the adults in the room.

Join us, again, to fight for the things we love, and to draw a line around the things that make Alaska unique. Get involved today. Contact our organizer, Satchel Pondolfino, at satchel@inletkeeper.org to get involved.