There continues to be a fair amount of discussion about the fate of the Pebble mine. One development worth looking at carefully is the statement Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Senate’s Interior Appropriations committee, included with the committee’s bill.
EXPLANATORY STATEMENT FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, ENVIRONMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS BILL, 2021
SUMMARY OF BILL
Protection of Resources in Bristol Bay, Alaska.—The Committee continues to monitor the Federal permitting process for the proposed Pebble mine project in southwest Alaska, including the efforts of the Department of the Interior, EPA, and independent subject matter experts to help protect the world-class ecosystem and salmon fishery in the Bristol Bay region from unavoidable adverse impacts. The Committee concurs with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ [Corps] assessment of August 24, 2020, that ‘‘the project, as proposed, cannot be permitted under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act’’ and appreciates the administration’s commitment to a decision guided by sound science.
The Committee notes that on August 20, 2020, the Corps separately sent a letter to the Pebble Limited Partnership outlining mitigation requirements for the project. The Corps requested a mitigation plan within 90 days that addresses both in-kind and compensatory requirements, which the Committee believes set an appropriately high bar for this unique project. In the absence of a valid mitigation plan that has received all necessary approvals at the Federal and State levels, the Committee urges the agencies to continue to withhold the applicant’s Clean Water Act permit.
If the Pebble Limited Partnership is unable to provide a full and functional compensatory mitigation plan that meets all requirements within the Corps’ requested 90-day timeframe, the Committee encourages the agencies to proceed to a decision denying the permit for the project.
Reaction from the folks who work on this issue day-to- day were not especially laudatory of the action.
I think if we would’ve seen something that essentially recommended no spending be allowed in the next fiscal year to move forward with the Pebble project, that would’ve been a little more reassuring. But this doesn’t do that,” Bristol said. “It just seems to sort of describe the situation as it is right now.”Tim Bristol, executive director of SalmonState
According to an Associated Press report, Murkowski spokeswoman Karina Borger said the senator wanted the Corps to know it must hold the mitigation plan to a high standard and Pebble should end the process if the requirements cannot be met.
The language is a clear shot across the bow of the EPA. Hopefully, with the election behind us the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will let science rather than politics drive the decision. But if you are following the news you know anything could happen and the administration may decide to flip off the myriad interests who oppose this project.
We will have to wait and see what the Corps decides to do with Pebble’s mitigation plan. The people I talk to say the bar set by Corps is almost impossible to meet. If the Corps accepts it, and it doesn’t “provide a full and functional compensatory mitigation plan that meets all requirements” the ball will be in Senator Murkowski’s court.
Time will tell. In the meantime it can’t hurt to send a message to Senator Murkowski.