Alaska’s Controversial Pebble Mine Fails to Win Critical Permit, Likely Killing It
The immense project would have been one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines, but regulators found it “contrary to the public interest” due to environmental risks in the pristine Alaskan tundra.
The Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, likely dealing a death blow to a long-disputed project that aimed to extract one of the world’s largest deposits of copper and gold ore, but which threatened breeding grounds for salmon in the pristine Bristol Bay region.
The fight over the mine’s fate has raged for more than a decade. The plan was scuttled years ago under the Obama administration, only to find new life under President Trump. But opposition, from Alaska Native American communities, environmentalists and the fishing industry never diminished, and recently even the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., a sportsman who had fished in the region, came out against the project.
On Wednesday, it failed to obtain a critical permit required under the federal Clean Water Act that was considered a must for it to proceed. In a statement, the Army Corps’ Alaska District Commander, Col. Damon Delarosa, said the mine, proposed for a remote tundra region about 200 miles from Anchorage, would be “contrary to the public interest” because “it does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines.”
Opponents said the large open-pit operation, which would dig up and process tens of millions of tons of rock a year, would irreversibly harm breeding grounds for salmon that are the basis for a sports-fishing industry and a large commercial fishery in Bristol Bay. Salmon are also a major subsistence food of Alaska Natives who live in small villages across the region.
The Pebble project even generated a rare dispute within the Trump family. In August, Donald Trump Jr., an avid sportsman who has fished in the Bristol Bay area, tweeted his opposition to the mine: “The headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chances with. #PebbleMine.”
President Trump, when asked in following days about his son’s sentiments and the prospects for the project, said only that he would “look at both sides” of the issue and that politics would not play a role in any decision. Privately, however, administration officials said they expected that the permit would be approved.
But in September, the future of the multibillion dollar project appeared in doubt when secret recordings of company executives suggested that they were planning for a much larger mine, and one that would operate far longer, than what had been proposed to the Corps.
The recordings were obtained by an environmental advocacy group, with two members who were posing as potential investors in the project meeting by video with two project executives. The executives described how the mine could operate for 160 years or more beyond the proposed 20 years, and how its output could double after the first two decades.
In the fallout from the recordings, one of the executives, Tom Collier, chief executive of the Pebble Partnership, resigned.