This guest blog post is written by Meghan Barker, the Bristol Bay Organizer for Trout Unlimited – Alaska. The Conservation Alliance is supporting TU’s effort to stop the Pebble Mine once and for all.
Over the course of the summer, the efforts to stop the proposed Pebble mine slated for the Bristol Bay region of Alaska came to a roar after nearly two decades of vocal opposition from local residents, tribal organizations and conservation groups like Trout Unlimited.
The proposed copper and gold mine would sit in the headwaters of the most prolific sockeye salmon fishery on the planet. The Pebble Limited Partnership applied for their key federal permit in December 2017. This summer, the coalition has worked to ensure science is upheld and the mine cannot be granted its Clean Water Act permit due to the massive damage the permit review showed it would cause to this one-of-a-kind fishery.
On July 23rd, 2020, the Army Corps of Engineers issued the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Pebble proposal, one of the final review documents in the permitting process. The FEIS showed more than 191 miles of streams and 4,614 acres of wetlands would be impacted if phase one of the proposed Pebble mine advances, the vast majority of those impacts are permanent. After the release of the FEIS the Army Corps of Engineers only had to wait 30 days before releasing its decision to either grant or deny Pebble’s permit.
During that 30-day window, a chorus of high-profile sportsmen and women from across the political spectrum came out against the mine, citing the powerhouse fishery at risk by a Canadian mining company. A Twitter storm of action began with tweets from the former chief of staff of Vice President Pence, Nick Ayers, and Donald Trump Jr. The sentiments of the two were later echoed by other celebrities, including Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Fonda, Zac Brown, Kix Brooks and many others.
But these big voices for Bristol Bay are certainly not the first to call on the Trump Administration to deny Pebble’s key federal permit. In April, 250+ fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation businesses (including many Conservation Alliance business partners) and over 30,000 individual sportsmen and women sent a letter to the White House with the same message: Pebble’s permit must be denied.
As numerous scientists and technical experts raised important concerns, bipartisan support for Bristol Bay through the outdoor community continued to flood the media during the 30-day waiting period. FOX News contributor Tucker Carlson hosted segments with the CEO of Bass Pro Shops, Johnny Morris, and Bristol Bay lodge owner, Brian Kraft, to talk about how Pebble will destroy the hunting and fishing traditions and fish-based economies in Bristol Bay. Meanwhile, another 20,000 Americans signed the petition to the President, urging the Administration to deny Pebble’s permit.
On August 24th, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that Pebble’s mitigation plan was insufficient, and that the current Pebble proposal wouldn’t receive a permit due to the impacts it poses to wetlands. Pebble’s permit is not officially denied, but the Army Corps’ announcement sent the company back to the drawing board, with 90 days to come up with a new plan.
While waiting to see the new plan, last month, talking about their plans to build a mine significantly larger than what is currently being considered by the Corps and what was shared with the public. The Pebble Tapes resulted in the resignation of CEO Tom Collier, and newfound political hurdles they will now have to overcome.
Hunters, anglers, conservationists, Republicans, Democrats and thousands of others across the country know our work is far from done – we still need Pebble’s permit officially denied and long-term protections instated for the Bristol Bay region. Still, the Corps announcement and the fallout from the Pebble Tapes are huge steps in the right direction towards ensuring the people, fish, and fish-based industries in Bristol Bay have the protections they need and deserve.
Trout Unlimited will continue to harness the bipartisan opposition to the Pebble mine to echo the strong science demonstrating that the proposal cannot coexist with the fishery and has no place in Bristol Bay. The latest announcement from the Army Corps is what happens when we put differences aside and come together to unite for wild places, and the work doesn’t stop until Pebble is gone for good. Keep up with TU’s Save Bristol Bay campaign at www.savebristolbay.org or by following the effort on Instagram (@savebristolbay) for the next call to action and what you can do to help safeguard this incredible national resource.