Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden, citing Bristol Bay as fundamental to Alaska Natives’ way of life for generations, vows that if elected his administration will put a stop to the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska.
Biden issued an online statement on Sunday, Aug. 9, saying, “Bristol Bay has been foundational to the way of life of Alaska Natives for countless generations, provides incredible joy for recreational anglers from across the country and is an economic powerhouse that supplies half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon. It is no place for a mine.”
Biden, who served as vice president to President Barack Obama, cited an assessment made in 2014 by the Obama administration that found that development of the mine could cause permanent harm to the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon population.
On June 24, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final environmental impact statement on the proposed mine, on the edge of the Bristol Bay watershed, concluding that the mine “would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers.”
Biden said, “the only reason we are still debating whether Pebble mine should move forward is because hours after former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with a mining executive behind closed doors, the Trump Administration reversed our thoughtful decision.”
Biden’s comments drew a quick response from Tom Collier, chief executive officer of the Pebble Partnership in Anchorage, a subsidiary of Hunter Dickenson Inc., a diversified, global mining group based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Collier acknowledged during a congressional hearing on Oct. 23, 2019, that he would get a $12.5 million bonus if the USACE signs off on its forthcoming record of decision for the Pebble mine.
Collier said the final EIS demonstrates that Pebble will have no measurable impact on Bristol Bay salmon or other fish populations, nor on the commercial, subsistence and sport fisheries they support.
“The science is in,” Collier said. “… it has been determined that the Pebble Project will fully co-exist with clean water and healthy fish and wildlife populations in Bristol Bay. No amount of Monday morning quarterbacking is going to change those findings.”
In Washington, D.C. meanwhile, the House Oversight and Reform Committee has called for an investigation into the USACE’s environmental review of the proposed mine. Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, said in a letter to the inspectors general of the Army and the Defense Department that “it appears that this timeline is inappropriate for a hard rock mine of this scale, complexity and potential regional and state environmental, social and economic impacts, especially during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The committee’s Aug. 10 letter urges Army Inspector General Leslie C. Smith and Defense Department Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell to review the dredge-and-fill permit application under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Biden’s support for the fishery meanwhile won kudos from several opponents of the mine.
“There is broad public opposition to this particular mining project across the political spectrum,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “The environmental review process left far too many questions unanswered, and we hope that our federal leadership will act in accordance with the will of Alaskans and other Americans.”
“The bipartisan support for protecting Bristol Bay from this toxic project just confirms what as Native people have always known: Bristol Bay is invaluable to the globe,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “In a time of great upheaval in this country, we are heartened by the strong support across the nation to protect our people, our fisheries, and our economy from the toxic Pebble mine. It’s time to end this toxic project.”
The nonprofit entity SalmonState meanwhile hailed Biden’s pledge to stop the mine.
“There’s no place else like Bristol Bay left on the planet,” said Tim Bristol, executive director of SalmonState. “We look forward to the day the Environmental Protection Agency exercises its authority under the Clean Water Act to veto this toxic project.”
A recent poll found that 62 percent of Alaskans were against the mine, while only 31 percent were for it. The project, already opposed by a number of commercial and sport fishing interests and Alaska Native entities in the Bristol Bay region, plus businesses engaged in the commercial and sport fishing industries, and others ranging from Tiffany & Co. to Whole Foods and Orvis.
The opposition gained more support last week when the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., responded to a post by Nick Ayers, former chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, in opposition to the mine. Trump Jr. and Ayers are urging the president to intervene to block the mine.
“The headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chances with,” the president’s son said.
The USACE has yet to issue its Record of Decision on whether to approve a permit or not. Even if the permit is approved, mine proponents still need to obtain state permits.