There are few projects anywhere in the world that have earned the condemnation of virtually everyone. The Pebble Mine is one of those projects, opposed overwhelmingly by residents of the Bristol Bay region, by voters state-wide in Alaska, by residents across the United States, and, virtually unanimously, by conservation experts world-wide.
One exception to this broad and diverse opposition is current Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Scott Pruitt, who has proposed to throw the project a lifeline by withdrawing significant restrictions previously proposed by EPA to protect the region’s world class wild salmon fishery.
This week, in a stunning rebuke to Pruitt published yesterday in the Washington Post, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Administrators from every Republican Administration since President Nixon (except President Gerald Ford, whose EPA Administrator is deceased) joined in condemning both the Pebble Mine and Pruitt’s summary proposal to withdraw restrictions. The statement is signed by former Administrators William D. Ruckelshaus (Presidents Nixon and Reagan), William K. Reilly (President George H.W. Bush), and Christine Todd Whitman (President George W. Bush).
The statement is also joined by former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, in direct contradiction of his former Interior Department Chief of Staff Tom Collier, who now leads the company behind the massive Pebble Mine project and recently met with Pruitt behind closed doors to request the reversal that the Administrator then immediately announced.
According to the bipartisan statement, the decision on the Pebble Mine is not a close question:
The question of whether to build a massive open pit copper and gold mine in the heart of the planet’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery has a simple answer. The Pebble Mine is the wrong mine in absolutely the wrong place, and the answer is no.
The approximately 500-word statement goes on to explain the factual and legal basis for this unequivocal conclusion, citing the unsurpassed productivity of the fisheries, the comprehensive science underlying the need for their protection, the opposition of Alaska Native communities and commercial fishermen to the Pebble Mine, and even the abandonment of the project by three of the world’s largest mining companies, Mitsubishi Corporation in 2011, Anglo American in 2013, and Rio Tinto in 2014:
As proposed, Pebble would produce billions of tons of mining waste in the headwaters of the streams and rivers that flow into Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The 40 to 60 million sockeye salmon that return each year to spawn in the Bristol Bay watershed support the largest commercial salmon fishery in the world, fueling a $1.5 billion economy and 14,000 jobs.
Scientists recently completed a thorough, four-year review of the mine and its impacts on the watershed. The study found that the mine would destroy pristine wetlands, that roads and pipelines would slice through salmon-spawning streams, and that toxic chemicals would threaten Bristol Bay’s waters.
Alaska Native communities have assessed the mine’s impacts on their livelihoods and way of life and have reached the same conclusions. Commercial fishermen in Alaska say that “large-scale mineral development activities present serious risks for the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.” They are among the 65 percent of Alaskan voters who believe the Pebble Mine poses an unacceptable threat to the state’s fishing industry.
Even the mining companies initially backing the Pebble Mine have concluded it’s a losing proposition. The mining giant Rio Tinto abandoned the project in 2014. Anglo-American withdrew its 50 percent stake in the project in 2013, taking a $500 million loss in the process. Mitsubishi Corporation sold out in 2011.
The Administrators then describe the petition for EPA protection by Alaskan tribes, the litigation filed against the agency to prevent that protection, and, soon after the Trump Administration began, the agreement by Pruitt behind closed doors to reverse course:
Understanding the project’s risks, and at the request of Alaskan tribes, the Environmental Protection Agency pledged to use the federal Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. Unfortunately, the last remaining company in the Pebble Limited Partnership sued to stop the Clean Water Act process, falsely claiming the EPA was acting outside of its authority.
This year, before the lawsuit was resolved but within months after the Trump Administration began, the EPA, now under the direction of Administrator Scott Pruitt, agreed behind closed doors to reverse course, settling the Pebble Partnership’s lawsuit and abandoning the science-based Clean Water Act process intended to protect the Bristol Bay region and its fishery.
Finally, after calling out the efforts of the Trump Administration to ignore nearly a decade of science and Clean Water Act review, the bipartisan signatories conclude that the project is “fundamentally flawed” and that the fisheries, Alaskans and the Bristol Bay watershed must be protected”:
We oppose the Trump Administration’s efforts to sweep nearly a decade of science and Clean Water Act review under the rug. The record is clear: The Pebble Mine is fundamentally flawed – it’s the wrong mine in the wrong place.
And the choice is simple. Protect the greatest salmon fishery on the planet. Protect Alaskans and the Bristol Bay watershed.
The question of whether to allow the Pebble Mine should indeed be a simple question. That Administrator Pruitt is unwilling or unable to answer it correctly is a telling indication of his anti-environmental, pro-polluter bias and agenda, even in the heart of the most productive wild salmon ecosystem on Earth. He is an ideological outlier whose actions have this week been justifiably rejected even by prior EPA Administrators appointed by every Republican President but one since EPA was created.
Take action now. Tell Scott Pruitt you oppose his backroom deal to withdraw proposed restrictions on the Pebble Mine.