OPINION: Why Alaskans can’t ignore Pebble Mine

“Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

The Pebble Limited Partnership would certainly want you to believe this well-known quip applies to its Pebble mine project. After all, the last two years have been nothing but a string of bad headlines that would be death knells for most other businesses.

To start, the Army Corps of Engineers denied Pebble the key federal permit it needs to move forward with the project. Then the Environmental Protection Agency restarted a long-stalled process to enact Clean Water Act restrictions on large-scale hard-rock mining in the vicinity of the Pebble deposit.

Outside of government actions, a landowner along Pebble’s preferred transportation corridor entered into a conservation easement transaction that, if closed, would make its lands unavailable to the Pebble project. Pebble’s CEO was forced to resign when recordings made public in 2020 reveal him boasting of his sway over Alaska’s political leadership. Multiple shareholder lawsuits allege that Northern Dynasty Minerals, Pebble’s parent company, misled investors about the project. Once a lobbying juggernaut spending well over $2 million annually in Washington, D.C., the company is currently reporting $0 in federal lobbying spending — and has the Alaska delegation in the U.S. Senate united in opposition to a mine to show for its past efforts. To top it off, Northern Dynasty remains mired in penny stock status.

Yet the Pebble project is not dead. Pebble and Northern Dynasty continue to make the rounds in Alaska and across North America, promising untold riches to ever-elusive investors. Last month, they released a new economic report based on some combination of fiction and the rosiest of projections in an attempt to make Alaskans believe Pebble will bring the state untold riches. And, most recently, Northern Dynasty attempted to capitalize on the war in Ukraine to make the case that Pebble’s copper should be part of the American supply chain, despite the fact that it has always maintained that ore from Pebble would be sent to refiners in Asia for processing and resale.

It would be easy to dismiss these latest developments as nothing more than last-ditch efforts to save a dying project. Unfortunately, we’ve been down this road before.

Many thought Pebble died in 2014 when EPA first announced Clean Water Act restrictions. Some thought the Army Corps’ permit denial would mean the quick demise of Pebble. But that hasn’t happened. While the Pebble mine may no longer be a top-tier concern for many Alaskans, Pebble and Northern Dynasty are still promoting Pebble.


Alaskans cannot afford to allow the Pebble project to linger in existence.

There are too many potential threats to ignore. For example, Pebble is currently appealing the Army Corps’ permit denial, which if successful, could reverse the Corps’ November 2020 decision. Although EPA’s November 2021 announcement that it would restart the Clean Water Act process was a welcome development, the process will take time. As was the case in 2014 when EPA first proposed restrictions, the longer it takes to finalize, the longer Bristol Bay remains vulnerable.

And in recent weeks, Pebble and Northern Dynasty, which have long claimed that cyanide would not be part of mining operations, changed their tune. Their new economic report confirms that a secondary recovery circuit, using chemical lixiviants such as cyanide, is necessary to hit their lofty financial predictions. You read that right — building Pebble Mine means introducing cyanide and other chemicals into Bristol Bay’s pristine watershed.

We can’t forget what’s at stake. Last year, Bristol Bay saw another record year for sockeye — more than 66 million fish returned to the region’s inshore waters. Projections for 2022 indicate another potentially historic year. This resilient fishery shows no signs of slowing; let’s not let Pebble mine undercut that momentum.

Now is the time for Alaskans to redouble our efforts and demand that our elected officials, both at the state and federal level, do everything they can to stop Pebble in its tracks and secure the future of Bristol Bay. Now is the time to pursue every avenue available — administrative, legislative, and political — to make sure this truly terrible project dies. In the next six months, EPA needs to issue final Clean Water Act restrictions for Pebble. Over the longer term, we need to work on other measures that will provide finality to Pebble and ensure Bristol Bay’s sustainable prosperity.

Though the Pebble project has experienced setbacks, issuing its death certificate is premature. Alaskans should continue to work together to ensure these setbacks signal the end for this fundamentally flawed mining proposal.

Russell S. Nelson is a lifelong resident of Dillingham, and has been a Bristol Bay Native Corp. director for 17 years. He currently serves as chair of BBNC’s board of directors.

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