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Pebble has filed an application for one of the major federal permits they'll need to build Pebble Mine and turn Bristol Bay into an industrial mining district. The Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of reviewing this permit application and is holding a public comment period from April 1- June 29, 2018. Please make sure to submit your comment to the Army Corp of Engineers HERE and send Shane McCoy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers an EMAIL or call him at 907-753-2715 to make your opinion heard. Fishpond has voiced our concerns through both outlets already.
Recap of Bristol Bay and Pebble Mine Happenings
There has been a lot of recent news on Bristol Bay / Pebble Mine – How to make sense of it? It's easiest to give a timeline of developments over the past months with a few details on each item. Here goes...
May 2017 – New Administration Settles Lawsuit with Pebble
Last May, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP). That same day, the EPA issued an internal directive that the agency should begin the work of unwinding the common-sense proposed restrictions on disposal of mining waste in the Bristol Bay region that EPA put forward in 2014. The proposed restrictions had not been finalized, due to an outstanding lawsuit filed by PLP against the EPA. Also in May 2017, the EPA settled this lawsuit, and one condition of the settlement stipulated that EPA agreed to not finalize the proposed restrictions for a period of 4 years (May 2021) or until the Army Corps of Engineers had completed an Environmental Impact Statement – if PLP applied for permits within 30 months of the settlement date. An important aspect of the settlement was that EPA did not shelve the findings and data in the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA), which was a critical document in developing the proposed restrictions, to begin with. The BBWA remains available to inform decisions that will be made during the Environmental Impact Statement process.
Summer 2017 – Historically Large Sockeye Salmon Runs in Bristol Bay
As Pebble seemed to have caught a lucky break with the new leadership at EPA, Bristol Bay itself stepped into the spotlight. Home to roughly 50% of the world’s sockeye salmon production, with an annual economic value of $1.5 billion, and supporting 14,000 jobs, it’s no wonder this battle is so important. When the 2017 season drew to a close, the numbers were staggering. 60 million sockeye salmon returned to Bristol Bay this season, making it one of the most prolific seasons in the 130-plus years of commercial fishing in Bristol Bay. Nearly 20 million of these fish returned to the streams from where they originated, providing confidence that future runs will be healthy. In fact, the 2018 season forecast is looking nearly as big as 2017. ADF&G Bristol Bay 2017 report and 2018 forecast.
Photo: Dave McCoy
October 2017 – Pebble Unveils Its Deceptive “Small” Mine Plan
Unable to convince Alaskans (or the broader public) that its mega-mine is not a threat to the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery, Pebble has taken a new approach. Figuring that securing permits for the entirety of what they plan will be extremely challenging, the company instead is trying to sell a scaled-down version of their grand vision. While trying to gain support for “Pebble Lite” amongst the general public, Pebble continues to promote the enormity of the deposit to the investment community – speaking out of both sides of their mouth. Bristol Bay interests remain unconvinced and have heartily dismissed this “camel’s nose under the tent” approach. There is no reason to believe that Pebble would only take one bite of the apple. If they were to receive permits for the initial phase of the prospect, there is no doubt that they (or another mining company) will attempt to expand until they take everything that they can from the deposit. * See the NBC News video below where Pebble's CEO indicates the likelihood of this happening. * It bears repeating that aside from Pebble, there also exist 800 square miles of mining claims in the Bristol Bay region. Pebble Mine would be the “foot in the door” and Bristol Bay would be forever compromised.
December 18, 2017 – Pebble Announces a Potential Partner
After seeing three major mining companies (Mitsubishi, Anglo American, and Rio Tinto) walk away from their controversial project in past years, the sole remaining “partner” in the Pebble Limited Partnership is Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM). NDM has been touring the globe in search of someone to help bankroll the project. In mid-December, it was announced that Canada-based First Quantum Minerals is performing due diligence as it considers investing up to $1.5 billion in the Pebble project. The framework of the agreement has First Quantum providing $37.5 million per year over the next 4 years to advance Pebble through the permitting process. Then, after investing $150 million to that point, First Quantum would have the right to purchase 50% of the project for $1.35 billion. First Quantum has a handful of mines in operation and in development on several continents, but Pebble would be its first mine in Alaska. In the meantime, NDM continues to seek additional partners and financing.
December 20, 2017 – Republican Former EPA Administrators Slam Pebble Mine
Three former Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency slammed the proposed Pebble Mine, saying the project could devastate natural ecosystems and imperil a multibillion-dollar industry. William Ruckelshaus, William Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman ― all former heads of the EPA under Republican presidents ― joined former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt in signing a letter published in The Washington Post. In the letter, they voiced their opposition to the controversial project near Bristol Bay. “The question of whether to build a massive open pit copper and gold mine in the heart of the planet’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery has a simple answer. The Pebble Mine is the wrong mine in absolutely the wrong place, and the answer is no,” the authors write.
Photo: Dave McCoy
December 22, 2017 - Northern Dynasty Applies for Pebble Mine Permit with USACE
After years of delaying and countless promises that they would begin the permit process, Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM) finally submitted an application to the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for a wetland-fill permit. The voluminous application was accepted by USACE, and thus begins the lengthy National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of the project based on an Environmental Impact Statement analysis. Since Pebble is – for now – applying for a permit to develop a small portion of the deposit, the details of the plans suggest that even this entry-level project would have significant impacts. It’s not nearly as benign as they’ve been pitching. Some “highlights” include:
Project operating life of 20 years.
Employment of 850 to 2,000 personnel for operations and construction, respectively.
A total of 1.2 billion tons of material mined over the life of the project.
Final pit dimensions of 6,500 feet in length, 5,500 feet in width, and 1,350 to 1,750 feet in depth.
Mine site: 3,190 acres (does not include roads, pipeline, ports)
Mining rate up to 90 million tons per year.
Final tailings storage facility (TSF) capacity of 1.1 billion tons.
Power plant generating capacity of 230 megawatts (MW) – would be Alaska’s 2nd-largest, and larger than that which powers Fairbanks.
Project operating schedule of two 12-hour shifts per day for 365 days per year.
An 83-mile transportation corridor - including an 18-mile year-round (ice-breaking barge in winter) crossing of Lake Iliamna - from the mine site to a year-round port site located on Cook Inlet near the mouth of Amakdedori Creek.
188-mile gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula across Cook Inlet to the project site with compressor stations on the Kenai Peninsula and at the Amakdedori port.
January 26, 2018 – EPA Makes a Surprise Announcement
Pruitt Tweet Pebble Jan 2018
You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that someone hacked into Scott Pruitt’s Twitter account after reading that. Read EPA's press release here, which recognizes the value of the fishery, the strength of the opposition to this project, and the risk it poses to Bristol Bay.
Just what is going on, and what does this mean?
As part of the May 2017 settlement, EPA had initiated a process to undo (“withdraw”) the proposed restrictions on disposal of mine waste in Bristol Bay. A public comment period received 1 million comments (99% in favor of not removing the proposed restrictions) and public meetings in Bristol Bay were also overwhelmingly against rolling back protections for Bristol Bay. EPA apparently considered that feedback, and figured out that Alaskans and Americans care deeply about this issue. So, EPA has suspended its effort to undo the proposed restrictions, leaving them in place and able to be used as a tool of the Clean Water Act during the NEPA and EIS process that just recently began.
But, what this most recent EPA announcement didn’t say is that via the May 2017 settlement with Pebble, the agency itself took this tool out of play until May 2021 or the Army Corps finishes the Environmental Impact Statement. So, Pebble is unhindered at this time from proceeding into the EIS process. The reality is, while EPA is now deciding to allow the proposed determination to remain on the table (they’re not going to withdraw it)…the settlement that Administrator Pruitt negotiated with Pebble still rules the day – and the proposed determination (proposed restrictions) may not be used at this time, likely not for several years. Pebble remains unfettered in their present ability to move along in the permitting process which they just started by applying to Army Corps in late December. The Wall Street Journal ran a good story covering this development.
Photo: Dave McCoy
Late Jan. 2018 - Investors Pressure First Quantum to Cut Ties with Pebble – Pebble Stock Takes Beating
In the wake of the EPA announcement, shares in Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM) have taken a couple significant drops. On the first trading day after the EPA news, NDM dropped 21.5% as investors realized that what Pebble had been promoting as a very friendly federal permitting regime may not be quite such smooth sailing. Shortly thereafter, the California State Treasurer released a letter to First Quantum (FQ), urging the company to sever all ties with NDM over its concern about the Pebble Mine’s impacts on Bristol Bay. Two State of California pension funds hold a sizeable number of FQ shares, so FQ is taking this development seriously as they perform their due diligence before deciding whether or not to finalize the financial support agreement that they reached in principle with NDM in fall 2017. Another large shareholder in FQ - a New York State pension fund - has taken the same action as California, putting more pressure on FQ to not invest in Pebble. The pressure on FQ has pushed the stock price of NDM down another 20%. All told, shares in NDM dropped as much as 37% since the EPA news on Friday, Jan. 26. In related news, Iconic jeweler Tiffany & Co. took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post, reiterating their opposition to the Pebble Mine.
Feb. 4, 2018 – NBC News Visits Bristol Bay to Report on Proposed Pebble Mine
NBC News sent a crew to Alaska in winter to visit with opponents of the Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay village of Dillingham, as well as with Pebble’s CEO Tom Collier who offers several whopper claims (the mine doesn’t threaten the fishery at all being a true highlight) and admits that the mine plans that Pebble has submitted are unlikely to be the end of mining at the Pebble deposit – someone will likely seek to develop further. Watch the 5-minute video here.
Make sure to make your voice heard - there is too much at stake in Bristol Bay to put an open pit mine in the headwaters.
Special thanks to Scott Head of Sportsman Alliance for Alaska for the play by play update on what has been happening with the Pebble Mine.
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