Record of decision on Pebble delayed to autumn 2020

Final environmental impact statement now set during height of Bristol Bay sockeye fishery

A final environmental impact statement that will determine the future of a proposed copper, gold and molybdenum mine abutting the Bristol Bay watershed in Southwest Alaska has now been delayed until the summer of 2020.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the announcement on Monday, Dec. 23, during its monthly teleconference with news media, saying that record of decision on permitting would then come in the fall of 2020.

“The delay is caused by us deciding that we needed more time to refine our analysis, and to finalize the respond to the concerns raised through the public comment period,” said Sheila Newman, deputy chief of the regulatory division of the Corps.

The final EIS was previously anticipated no later than the beginning of March.

The extended time for delivery of the final EIS also pushed back release of the Corps’ record of decision another 30 to 60 days, so that document is now expected by the fall of 2020.

The new schedule puts release of the final EIS in late June or early July, during the height of the Bristol Bay wild sockeye salmon harvest, when millions of salmon are returning to the bay during the world’s largest run of wild red salmon.  The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a run of nearly 49 million sockeyes in 2020, with a harvest of over 46 million fish in Bristol Bay and the South Alaska Peninsula.

“Ninety days at the very end of the process is not going to fix the flaws that we have identified,” said Katherine Carscallen, a Dillingham harvester and spokesperson for Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. “They are not responding to our concerns. This is the most important issue our state is facing, and they are going to give us 90 more days with zero more days or public comment,” she said.

The Corps’ announcement comes on the heels of an extensive report from CNN detailing how

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy collaborated to lobby the Trump administration to push forward with the mine project, which the Environmental Protection Agency warned could have a devastating impact on the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, with offices in Anchorage, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson, a diversified, global mining group in Vancouver, British Columbia.

CNN reporters documented with emails the news agency obtained how Dunleavy’s office was give detailed talking points, ghostwritten letters and advice on lobbying by the Pebble Partnership. Dunleavy’s office then used that information, sometimes using the PLP’s language word for word, in an effort that culminated in President Trump promising favorable action on the mine, according to the emails, CNN said.

CNN cited as a striking example Dunleavy’s use of Pebble’s language in an official letter that the governor sent to the USACE about the length of a public comment period on the mine’s draft EIS.  The emails show that Dunleavy’s letter was a verbatim copy of a draft sent to his aide by Pebble’s chief of staff, except for a few phrases, CNN reported.

Pebble found an ally in Dunleavy, who has since his election in December 2018 has called on the Trump administration to lift the preemptive veto that blocked the mine, CNN said. Dunleavy met with Trump in Anchorage during an Air force One stop on June 28, the same day that the EPA publicly announced plans to consider withdrawing its ban on the mine.  While the EPA announcement said only that the EPA would consider lifting the block, documents obtained from Dunleavy’s office via a public records request show that a Pebble staffer insisted “the governor was promised” a favorable outcome by Trump, CNN said.

The governor’s office responded to the CNN story, saying “the Pebble Project, located on state land, should be treated in the same manner as any other proposed development by undergoing a rigorous and impartial analysis by Alaska’s regulatory agencies, furthermore, it is common practice for an administration to request briefing materials on a specific project.

“The governor supports mining, oil and gas extraction, timber, commercial fishing and all other natural resource development projects that can meet or exceed Alaska’s stringent environmental standards, which are considered the highest in the world,” said the statement released by the governor’s office.

“Bristol Bay’s fishermen were outraged to learn that Alaska’s own governor has become a puppet for the Pebble Partnership and is willing to betray his fellow Alaskans for Pebble’s benefit,” Carscallen said, in a statement released in the wake of the CNN report.  “Governor Dunleavy’s actions put the future well-being and prosperity of Alaska’s fishermen, communities and businesses at risk.  He should be representing his constituents who have repeatedly said they do not want this mine and that it’s not worth the risk to our salmon and our livelihoods,” she said.

“We are consistently seeing undeniable evidence surface from investigative reporting that the corrupt politics of Alaska’s Governor Dunleavy and the Trump administration have guided the Pebble permitting process to date,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tirbes of Bristol Bay. “The fact that we are on the precipice of a release of a final EIS and permitting decision in 2020 that will be based on a universally condemned process wrought with state and federal corruption is extremely alarming,” she said.