Army Corps denies permit for Alaska’s Pebble Mine

A swampy flat area with rolling hills in the background
Area of the proposed Pebble Mine. (Jason Sear/KDLG)

In a surprise announcement Wednesday, the Trump administration denied a permit for the Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. The proposed open-pit gold and copper mine would have been one of the largest in North America.

At many points during the Trump presidency it has appeared that the permit was certain to be granted. But the Army Corps of Engineers determined the mine plan would not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines and that the project is not in the public interest. 

Fishermen and tribes in Bristol Bay have been fighting the mine for more than a decade. They say it would degrade the rich salmon runs that are at the heart of the area’s economy and indigenous culture.

Sportfishermen come from all over the world to stay at lodges in the area, for a chance at landing a record coho or rainbow trout.

RELATED: Alaska DEC has the power to veto Pebble Mine. Document suggests to mine foes DEC won’t use it.

“It is an incredible relief. I felt like sitting down and just crying,” said Nanci Morris Lyon at Bear Trail Lodge in King Salmon, who got the news by text. 

The prospect of the mine has held the whole region hostage for years, Lyon said. Lodge owners like her weren’t sure they could invest in their businesses. Commercial fishermen didn’t know if it was wise to buy boats or permits.

The president’s oldest son, an avid hunter and sportfisherman, is credited with galvanizing the Trump administration against the project. 

Lyon says Donald Trump, Jr. and his brother Eric stayed with her about eight years ago. 

“I had faith that after they had visited here and they spent time here, they understood that this place didn’t need something like that marring it, scarring it, ruining it forever,” she said.

Pebble Limited Partnership said it will likely appeal the decision. The company has said the project would provide hundreds of good jobs, and it has highlighted a conclusion in the Corp’s environmental report that found the project would have no measurable impact on Bristol Bay salmon. 

The report, though, is ambiguous. It also says the mine would degrade aquatic resources. 

The Corps focused on the degradation finding in its final decision. And it said Pebble’s plan to mitigate the damage doesn’t comply with the rules.

For now, the army corps decision appears to be a death knell for the mine. The incoming Biden administration is likely to oppose the project, as the Obama administration did. 

But Pebble Vice President Mike Heatwole says the new president might support the mine as a source of minerals needed in new wind turbines and electric vehicles.

“The president-elect has stated that we need to have increase domestic mining for copper, primarily to support the renewable energy goals of the incoming administration,” Heatwole said.

Mine opponents aren’t resting easy. They say now’s the time to lock in permanent protection for the area.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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