It’s time to catch up on your reading, as there’s been a lot of Pebble mine news lately, including new information about what developers are planning for the project, and how they hope to reset public opinion.
A public initiative aimed at increasing protections for salmon habitat may be on the 2018 ballot if organizer Stand for Salmon can get the required number of signatures. It can start that process now that Alaska Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner has overruled a previous decision by Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who had denied Stand for Salmon’s application. The State of Alaska is currently evaluating whether it will appeal Rindner’s ruling to the Alaska State Supreme Court, a process that will take several weeks. The State Department of Law believes the initiative to be unconstitutional because it “contains restrictions and directives that would require the commissioner to reject permits for resource development or public projects in favor of fish habitat.” Last week during Stand for Salmon’s appeal of Mallot’s decision, attorneys debated whether the initiative gives the state “enough wiggle room to consider projects like the proposed Pebble Mine or Susitna Dam even if they impact salmon streams.” Read more in “Judge weighs whether ballot initiative favors salmon over mining, oil.” (Alaska Public Media, October 3, 2017). That article notes that the Alaska State Legislature could decide the question through the legislative process in a similarly worded bill that is currently in the House Special Committee on Fisheries.
The Trump Administration is routinely given credit for “breathing new life” into the Pebble project, particularly in its decision to withdraw proposed restrictions at the Pebble deposit. The Washington Post and CNN both reported that new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) CEO on May 1 and then instructed staff to begin the process of withdrawing restrictions, as detailed in a subsequent settlement agreement with PLP. That process is underway, with administrators from EPA traveling to Bristol Bay this week for two hearings to collect public input on EPA’s rationale for making this decision. Although EPA is required to collect this input, both PLP and Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM) are confident the agency will follow through and withdraw the proposed restrictions. It may seem that the public input opportunity is merely a formality, but former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks in favor of public participation in this recent interview with High Country Times: “…we have to start acting. Comment on rules that come in, be a citizen of science, find out what’s going on in your own community, get active in your own life…” For a longer piece on the EPA’s decision to withdraw proposed restrictions within context of the Bristol Bay fishery and Pebble project, read “This is the most valuable salmon fishery in the world.” (CNN, October 10, 2017)
In presentations to industry groups over the last two weeks, PLP and NDM refuted misconceptions about their project, reaffirmed its value to Alaska, Bristol Bay residents and to investors, revealed some highlights of their new, smaller mine design, and spoke optimistically about plans for a new partnership and their ability to submit permitting documents by the end of 2017. The NDM corporate presentation was also shared with reporters and published to the PLP website, and Mining News covered PLP CEO Tom Collier’s address to Alaska’s Resource Development Council. While articles such as “Pebble shows first glance at its new mine plans” (Alaska Public Media, October 6, 2017) and “Pebble unveils long-awaited smaller mine plan” (Alaska Dispatch News, October 5, 2017) reference a new “mine plan,” developers reference it as a presentation that represents current “development scenarios we are investigating” and caution readers that it is not a technical mine plan. “We continue to consider various development options and as such, our current development scenarios may be revised to include adjustments and improvements as the Pebble Project advances. The purpose of the presentation is to facilitate discussions with stakeholders and does not represent economic analysis, technical mine study, detailed engineering proposals or similar study. It should not be used as the basis for any investment decision.”
Opinion – Pro, Con and Undecided
Groups opposing development of the mine described the smaller mine footprint as “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and Alaska State Governor Bill Walker chimed in that he is still not supportive of the mine, although he will consider what developers have to say. KDLG’s Dave Bendinger interviewed several Bristol Bay residents last week, including those for, against and undecided. Read more in: “Bristol Bay braces for long-awaited mine plans” (October 3, 2017) and “AlexAnna Salmon’s bold advocacy for a way of life.” (October 4, 2017).
Coming Up in the Media
CNN’s investigative reporting unit has taken a look at the EPA’s decision to withdraw proposed protections from the Pebble deposit area. That piece airs Tuesday, October 10 on Anderson Cooper 360.
And CNN’s “Wonder List” series takes Bob Weir to various places around the world. This season it features Alaska, and is reported to include coverage of the Pebble mine issue. Watch for the Alaska episode in late October or early November.