Pebble Mine

Why BBNC Opposes Pebble Mine

Since 2009, Bristol Bay Native Corporation has formally opposed the proposed Pebble mine at the headwaters of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers in Bristol Bay, Alaska. These rivers support the prolific salmon runs in Bristol Bay, which produce tens of millions of sockeye salmon every year and support a billion-dollar commercial fishing industry, 14,000 fishing jobs, a robust sportfishing and tourism economy, and our Alaska Native way of life. The gold and copper mine, which would produce billions of tons of wasterock stored in perpetuity behind a massive earthen dam, would threaten all that Bristol Bay holds dear. Our views on Pebble mine are based on our “fish first” value – and the opinions of the vast majority of our over 10,300 Alaska Native shareholders.

We are opposed to the Pebble mine because science has proven it will have unacceptable, adverse impacts to Bristol Bay’s watershed. Even the conservative and incomplete Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS) for the mine plan estimates that Pebble could destroy over 3,000 acres of pristine wetlands and 105 miles of streams, while mining less than 13% of the ore body located at Pebble. Top executives at Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) and parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM) acknowledge that the mine will be much larger and potentially in operation for 180 years or longer.

Our late Republican Senator Ted Stevens’ words still ring true: “Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place.”

Our Leadership’s Views

“In order to best protect the land of Bristol Bay and the way of life for current and future generations of BBNC shareholders, BBNC must do its part to protect the sustainable natural resources of our region. Development of the Pebble mine would threaten the Bristol Bay fishery and the world-class salmon run which has served as the heart of our subsistence lifestyle, supporting our people for generations. BBNC’s firm opposition to Pebble is consistent with the values of cultural and economic sustainability to which we hold ourselves.” – BBNC Chairman Joe Chythlook

“BBNC does not otherwise oppose mining development. Pebble mine is simply different. In any configuration, the mine is too big and will be located in too important of a location. It poses unacceptable risks to the salmon resource and consequently, the subsistence lifestyle and economic interests of our shareholders.” – Jason Metrokin, BBNC President & CEO

Current Status

After years of delay, the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) began the federal permitting process for Pebble mine in late 2017 through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Comparable mines typically take five years or more to reach a final federal permit – it took six years for the Donlin mine in western Alaska – but the current timeline for Pebble is expected to last approximately three years. This is unprecedented for a mine that could be among the largest open-pit mines in North America and would be located in a uniquely sensitive watershed ecosystem.

The Corps of Engineers completed the Final EIS for Pebble in July 2020. The Final EIS is intended to provide the scientific rationale for approving or denying the federal Clean Water Act permit for the mine. The Final EIS for Pebble, beset by flaws and inadequacies along with critical comments from multiple state and federal agencies, still clearly demonstrates that Pebble would have extensive impacts on Bristol Bay’s wetlands and rivers. In addition, the Final EIS does not address the fact that PLP has yet to obtain permission to use lands necessary for its transportation corridor north of Lake Iliamna, including subsurface lands and resources owned by BBNC.

The Final EIS release prompted public opposition from diverse, national voices, including Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, President Trump’s son Donald Trump, Jr., and the former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence. In a time of intense partisanship, opposing the Pebble Mine is one of the few issues that unites Alaskans and Americans on both sides of the political aisle.

On August 24, 2020, the U.S. Army Corps announced that Pebble mine “could not be permitted” as proposed, based largely on its inadequate compensatory mitigation plan. Even if the Corps of Engineers signs off on PLP’s mitigation plan and issues a favorable Record of Decision (ROD), PLP must still go through a State of Alaska process that requires over 60 permits. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) retains its authority to deny the federal permit, too.

Alaskans Oppose Pebble Mine

In a state known for its support of resource development, Alaskans have consistently opposed Pebble mine. Most recently, a survey of likely November 2020 voters taken in June 2020 shows Alaskans oppose the mine by a 2-1 margin (62% to 31%). BBNC’s own polling has shown similar results, with a majority of Alaskans opposing the mine dating back to at least 2012. The mine is also opposed by 76% of BBNC shareholders, with majorities opposing the mine in every part of the Bristol Bay region, including communities closest to the mine site.

Moreover, since 2012, over 2.5 million comments have been submitted to EPA and other federal agencies expressing opposition to Pebble mine. The vast majority of comments from Alaskans have been in opposition. The depth and breadth of this coalition is unprecedented for a major resource development project.

Alaskans and residents in the lower 48 understand the importance of one of the world’s largest, and last, commercial sockeye salmon runs. Pebble has had over ten years to gain the public’s trust and continues to spend untold funds to gain support of Alaskans. But Alaskans aren’t buying what Pebble is selling.

Alaska’s Senators Weigh In

In September of 2019, Alaska Senator and Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski included language in an appropriations bill report that expressed concerns with the permitting process and encouraged a permit denial if the concerns aren’t met.

Both Senator Murkowski and Senator Dan Sullivan supported the Army Corps’ August 2020 conclusion that the mine could not be permitted as proposed. Senator Murkowski said, “I agree that a permit should not be issued.” Senator Sullivan said, “I support this conclusion – based on the best available science and a rigorous, fair process – that a federal permit cannot be issued.

The Senators reiterated their opposition during the Bristol Bay Voices Panel held during the 2020 Bristol Bay Wild Salmon Celebration.

“After this very rigorous, very thorough process, the [Army Corps of Engineers] has found that the Pebble project as currently proposed does not meet that high bar. And I have said, if you don’t meet the high bar, then a permit should not be issued,” said Senator Murkowski.

“We know we have an incredible resource in the region already, which is the salmon resource, so you can’t trade one resource for another…we had to make sure that the agencies, and the federal government, the White House, everybody was listening to Alaskans,” said Senator Sullivan. Later, Senator Sullivan further reiterated his opposition, stating “I oppose Pebble Mine. No Pebble Mine.

And even more recently, Senator Murkowski reiterated her opposition to Pebble at the 2020 Alaska Federation of Natives Annual Convention stating, “I have been clear throughout that I oppose the project. I recognize the need for new economic development in Southwest Alaska. I think we all do. But I simply think this is the wrong mine in the wrong place.” Watch the video of her entire AFN statement on Pebble below.

What’s Next for Pebble Mine?

Despite growing criticism to its proposal, PLP has pledged to release an updated compensatory mitigation plan in the fall of 2020. PLP will have a difficult, if not impossible, task to meet the standards outlined by the Army Corps in an August 20, 2020 letter sent to PLP. The current mine plan is rife with other problems – from water treatment and storage, land ownership concerns, impact on anadromous fish species, and tailings dam design, to name a few.

In addition, it is far from certain that the mine is economically feasible. Multiple mining companies, including Mitsubishi, Rio Tinto and Anglo American, some of the largest in the world, abandoned their stakes in Pebble. Reputable companies and organizations have questioned the feasibility of the mine as currently proposed. PLP itself has admitted it cannot complete permitting without a new financial partner.

In September of 2020, the Environmental Investigation Agency released taped conversations with then-PLP CEO Tom Collier and NDM CEO Ron Thiessen. These recordings reveal the company’s plans to mine a much larger area of Bristol Bay, for a much longer time frame. They confirm what most Alaskans have long expected and reveal PLP’s willingness to do and say anything to gain a permit for the mine. The executives also discuss their influence over the Alaska District of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Governor’s Office. Within days of their release, Tom Collier resigned as CEO and former PLP CEO John Shively stepped back into his old position as interim CEO. The recordings provide an additional justification for an outright permit denial by the Army Corps of Engineers.

No matter the permitting outcome or the status of PLP, BBNC’s opposition to Pebble mine is unwavering. We will not trade salmon for gold and we will not sacrifice our Alaska Native way of life for short-term profits that will primarily benefit a foreign-owned company.

Additional Resources

Analysis of Permitting Documents

BBNC Letters and Comments

BBNC Comments on Draft EIS

Other Resources