Pebble Mine Year in Review 2021: Back to the Future at EPA

The destructive Bristol Bay mega-mine is all but dead following the EPA’s 2021 restart of the Clean Water Act 404 (c) process for the sustainable protection of the area, long sought after by the tribes and communities of Bristol Bay .

Twin Lakes, Bristol Bay Area

Pebble Mine owner Northern Dynasty Minerals didn’t expect his only asset to be on life support in 2021. He assumed the Trump presidency would provide a launching pad to enable the widely doomed project and then attract new ones. investors. But that vision evaporated in the fall of 2020, with the rejection of his permit application by the Army Corps of Engineers and the election of a new president who believes in the power of science and the imperative of protect Bristol Bay.

For Northern Dynasty, instead of defending a license, 2021 has been consumed by appealing its denial, persuading potential investors that it will win, and issuing a series of press releases the apparent purpose of which is to persuade the world, against all reason, that his besieged project is still viable.

But this year, as Northern Dynasty desperately tried to stay afloat, the center of the action – the heart of progress – was elsewhere. Emphasis was placed on the authority of the United States Environmental Protection Agency under Section 404 (c) of the Federal Clean Water Act (“404 (c)”), which ultimately culminated in the agency’s September decision to reinstate the Determination Proposal previously adopted seven years later. earlier in July 2014. This formal proposal for federal guarantees, which the Trump administration sought to withdraw in vain in 2019, would now, if finalized, veto the Pebble mine once and for all.

Throughout 2021, we have seen an extraordinary crescendo of calls to action from the EPA, a crescendo of support that has brought Pebble Mine to this remarkable ‘back to the future’ moment. Administrative and legal advocacy, won and paid media communications, member activism, new economic and technical analysis and the largest wild Bristol Bay salmon run in history. Each of these factors contributed to the EPA’s decision to prioritize a return to the Clean Water Act process that the Bristol Bay tribes had initiated more than a decade earlier.

Here are some of the many highlights of 2021 in brief summaries:

  • Preparing the ground, in December 2020, the United Tribes of Bristol Bay (“United Tribes”) and the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation issued a “Call to Protect Bristol Bay”, detailing a regional vision for the long-term protection of Bristol Bay and calling on the EPA to veto Pebble Mine.
  • In February 2021, in a letter to then-Acting Administrator Jane Nishida, United Tribes has officially called on the EPA to take action to protect the region under section 404 (c). On February 24, United Tribes followed up on his request with a full-page ad in Politico urging President Biden to shut down the Pebble Mine and protect Bristol Bay.
  • In March and April, this request was supported by a wide range of stakeholders, including March 1, 2021 by commercial fishermen, March 8, 2021 by NRDC, March 11, 2021 by representatives DeFazio and Huffman, April 7 by investors and fund managers representing $ 105 billion in assets under management, on April 15 by 37 regional, state, national and international conservation and environmental organizations representing millions of supporters; and on April 26 by 26 entities representing outdoor recreation companies and hundreds of thousands of hunters, fishermen and American outdoor enthusiasts.
  • May 3, The NRDC has submitted a comprehensive memorandum to the EPA establishing the legal and scientific basis for the action of the EPA under Section 404 (c) and why the EPA is uniquely positioned to protect the region.
  • In March, the Bristol Bay Defense Fund released a McKinley Research Group report quantifying the economic benefits of wild salmon fishing in Bristol Bay. McKinley estimated the annual turnover generated at $ 2.2 billion and the number of jobs created at 15,000.
  • At the end of April and beginning of May, a large a coalition of stakeholders has launched a large paid media campaign urging the EPA to veto the pebble mine and permanently protect Bristol Bay. The ads ran in print and digital formats in a variety of media including The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, The Hill, and E&E.
  • In June, following an appeal filed by Trout Unlimited, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal reinstated the previously rejected litigation filed by coalition partners challenging the Trump administration’s illegal withdrawal from the EPA’s proposed 2014 section 404 (c) decision. This litigation gave way to the district court’s consideration of the substantive legal challenge.
  • In June, the Pedro Bay Corporation approved an agreement with The Conservation Fund to sell a conservation easement over 44,000 acres on the shore of Lake Iliamna, including the infrastructure right-of-way for the Pebble project. This agreement, if concluded, would prevent the company from having privileged access to the mine site.
  • In July, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that Bristol Bay salmon run threatened by Pebble Mine hit record high of 64.2 million fish – a number subsequently increased to over 66 million.
  • In July, a large The coalition launched a second wave of large paid media outlets, urging the EPA to “Finish the job” – vetoing Pebble Mine – which she started in 2014. These ads have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico and on CNN. In August, the Bristol Bay Defense Fund ran another round of announcements to mark the first anniversary of President Biden’s 2020 campaign pledge against large-scale mining in the Bay of Watershed. Bristol.
  • At the beginning of September, in a brief four-page file filed with the Federal District Court, EPA says it will not defend Trump administration’s illegal Section 404 (c) removal and instead seek a voluntary referral to the agency and reinstatement of the proposed 2014 determination.
  • In early September, a coalition of Bristol Bay Tribal Associations and Organizations celebrated the sixth anniversary of President Obama’s visit to Bristol Bay by publicly reaffirming their unwavering opposition to the Pebble Mine and their commitment to the continued protection of the region.
  • In mid-September, Bristol Bay Defense Fund launched third wave of paid ads in the New York Times and Anchorage Daily News thanking the EPA for deciding to relaunch the process to protect Bristol Bay under section 404 (c).
  • October 25, Northern Dynasty released a preliminary economic assessment (“PEA”) citing Project Pebble’s “strong economy” as an economic “game changer” that promises billions in revenue for Southwest Alaska. December 1, the independent review of this PEA by former Rio Tinto environmental chief Richard Borden concluded otherwise, calling the project an “extremely risky investment” and concluding that “it is likely that the NPV of the project is negative, “potentially losing” hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. “
  • October 29, Federal District Court in Anchorage allowed EPA’s voluntary dismissal petition to the agency, reinstating as of right the 2014 Determination Proposal illegally withdrawn by the Trump administration.
  • In October, United Tribes, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Bristol Bay Native Association and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation have urged the EPA to complete the 404 (c) process for the protection of Bristol Bay by the start of the season fishing 2022 – summer 2022. On November 8, in a letter to the EPA, this request was echoed by a coalition of 53 local, state, national and international organizations representing tens of millions of members and supporters. At the same time, the Bristol Bay Defense Fund began broadcasting a video on CNN in support of the request.
  • November 17, EPA announcement next steps in its Section 404 (c) reopening process for Bristol Bay, including the fact that it plans to replace the existing proposed determination with a recommended determination by May 31, 2022. The EPA’s announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by United Tribes, citing the consistency of this timeline with demand from the Bristol Bay tribal communities.

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2021 has been a banner year in the battle for sustainable protection of Bristol Bay. As we prepare for 2022, the broad coalition of support, led by the people of Bristol Bay, continues to grow and EPA is moving forward, picking up where it left off in 2014 – about to update and complete its administrative process by the summer.

Based on science and recognizing the overwhelming support of Alaskans for the 404 (c) action, the coming year will provide an unprecedented opportunity to secure, once and for all, the EPA’s final determination that will remove the Damocles’ crippling sword over the Bristol Bay area. and its people whom Pebble Mine has represented for decades.

Bristol Bay’s wild salmon fishing and the watershed that feeds it is a national treasure that the Pebble mine is putting in jeopardy. It’s a battle we’ve always been determined to win. While 2021 has brought great progress, 2022 will tell the story.

Act now.

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