Army Corps puts the brakes on Pebble Mine: Here’s what we know

While uncertainties about Bristol Bay’s future remain, one thing is certain: American Rivers will continue to support the indigenous communities, conservation organizations and anglers who oppose this project.

Bristol Bay’s “red gold.” | Ben Knight

Like a zombie, the Pebble Mine project in the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska, has been the project that just will not die.

We thought the project was dead back in 2014 when the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) preemptively vetoed it using its authority under the Clean Water Act. However, the Trump Administration’s EPA reversed the veto in 2019 after initiating a fast-tracked environmental review process in 2018.

Last month, the EPA announced the results of that environmental review process. Reversing its earlier findings, the agency concluded that the project poses no serious environmental risks to the rivers of Bristol Bay watershed (a dubious claim, to be sure). It seemed that the EPA was paving the way for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a permit for the project.

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Fast forward to this week. In a surprise move, the Army Corps sent a letter to Northern Dynasty (the company that wants to build the mine) stating that it must figure out how it will mitigate for “all direct and indirect impact” to rivers in the Bristol Bay watershed. This letter follows vocal criticism of the project by President Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., as well as Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, who have both fished Bristol Bay. In another surprise move, Alaska’s two U.S. senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, expressed strong support for the Corps’ stunning turnabout.

While uncertainties about Bristol Bay’s future remain, one thing is certain: American Rivers will continue to support the indigenous communities, conservation organizations and anglers who oppose this project — until it goes away for good. We included the rivers of Bristol Bay in our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report three times— in 2006, 2011, and 2018. And we’ll continue to help our partners keep the pressure on until this pristine watershed is safe from harm.

The Nushagak and Kvichak rivers, including tributaries such as the Koktuli, Mulchatna and Talarik rivers, are home to one of the last great wild salmon runs in the world, and host world-class rainbow trout, char and other freshwater fish.

Returning salmon have been the cornerstone of the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq people’s cultures for thousands of years, still providing physical and cultural sustenance for the region’s more than 7,000 residents spread out across a region the size of Ohio. The rivers of Bristol Bay not only sustain local communities, but they also support countless wildlife species that thrive in the region, from marine mammals to waterfowl to brown bears. The Bristol Bay salmon fishery supports 14,000 sustainable American jobs worth $1.5 billion annually.

The Bristol Bay watershed provides habitat for at least 29 fish species, 40 terrestrial mammal species and 190 bird species. The area attracts tens of thousands of tourists each summer. Sport fishing results in more than 29,000 angler trips per year, and salmon-dependent wildlife such as brown bears attract thousands more. Just downstream from the Pebble Mine site lies Lake Iliamna— Alaska’s largest freshwater lake and home to one of two known freshwater seal populations in the world.

As river advocates, we care deeply about all of these things. That’s why we will remain vigilant until the Pebble Mine is finally put to rest.