Financing deal failure opens opportunity for you to act on Pebble Mine

By Safina Center Staff

Nushagak River, draining into Bristol Bay. Photo: Erin McKittrick of Ground Truth Trekking ( Commons

Pebble Limited Partnership is the mineral exploration corporation behind a proposed project to build a gold and copper mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, imperiling the world’s last great sockeye salmon run. Environmentalists, scientists and local residents have criticized the project as a wish for certain destruction of this economically and ecologically important region.

Opponents of the mine were celebrating last week when news surfaced that a major Pebble Mine financing deal fell through: The project’s key investor, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., said its partner First Quantum Minerals Ltd. had withdrawn from a financing agreement where it would contribute $37.5 million in initial capital and $150 million over the next three years in exchange for a 50 percent stake in the project. If First Quantum was out, announced Northern Dynasty Minerals, it was too.

Before Northern Dynasty and First Quantum Minerals cut their financing for the project, Mitsubishi, Rio Tinto and Anglo American had pulled away.

While this recent news means that Pebble Limited is in need of new financial backing, it does not mean the plan is off the table. In fact, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to expedite its review of Pebble Limited’s application, and has said it will make a decision on the project by early 2020. In the United States, environmental law dictates that all projects receive a thorough environmental review assessing ecological concerns, safety and costs.

In April, Carl Safina wrote “Your help is urgently needed to stop the destructive Pebble Mine project in its tracks,” an article for the National Geographic Blog. In it, he explains what’s at stake if the Army Corps speeds through the permitting process and approves Pebble Mine: “If fully built out, Pebble Mine could span three miles across and would require a huge tailings dam and containment pond to ‘hold’ the 2.5-10 billion gallons of mine waste produced over the mine’s lifetime. Accidents could destroy the existing values of the whole region. Chronic leaks and a near-eternal poison drip seem virtually guaranteed. Pebble Mine could destroy Bristol Bay’s salmon stocks.”

Wild sockeye salmon. Photo: Ingrid Taylar/Flickr

Safina called on the public to send comments to the Army Corps in opposition the project. The official commenting period during this critical part of the project’s review remains open through June 29, 2018.

Before that, in November 2017, Safina and Joel Reynolds, western director and senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-authored an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times titled “Pebble Mine is a poison pill for Alaska’s wild salmon.” At that time, Pebble Mine’s main financing partners were still a part of the picture. At that time Trump’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt had just rejected his agency’s environmental review process and Obama-era restrictions on the mine, thereby resuscitating Pebble Limited’s prospects for federal permitting.

Safina and Reynolds describe exactly what’s at stake: “If Pruitt wins, we all lose. The Bristol Bay watershed generates half the world’s remaining wild salmon, including five species: the scarlet sockeyes, the hard-charging kings, the silver coho, the humpbacked pinks and the placid chums. Together the salmon support 14,000 jobs and generate $1.5 billion annually.” The salmon and the ecosystem and economy that salmon supports will be lost if Pebble Mine be built.

Again, we want to emphasize that the time to act is now. With the public commenting period only open a few more weeks, we need you to promptly send your comment to the Army Corps. We’ve posted a sample letter to the Take Action: Ocean Issues page of the Safina Center website, and we invite you to use this letter as your comment. If you own an Alaskan business, please consider signing this letter supported by Businesses for Bristol Bay, which emphasizes to the Army Corps and elected officials the need to pause the Pebble Mine permitting process and seriously consider the implications of speeding through the project’s approval instead of completing a thorough environmental impact review.

The more we speak out about the dangers of Pebble Mine, the better our chance of convincing the Army Corps that approving it is a terrible idea. Join us in speaking out, for the sake of salmon and the future of Bristol Bay.

Bristol Bay sockeye “mob.” Similar clusters of sockeye salmon can be seen up and down Bristol Bay’s rivers during spawning season. Photo: Thomas Quinn, University of Washington/Wikimedia Commons


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Meet the Author
Ecologist Carl Safina is author of seven books, including the best-selling “Beyond Words; What Animals Think and Feel,” and “Song for the Blue Ocean,” which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His writing has won a MacArthur “genius” prize; Pew and Guggenheim Fellowships; book awards from Lannan, Orion, and the National Academies; and the John Burroughs, James Beard, and George Rabb medals. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic, and elsewhere, and he hosted the 10-part “Saving the Ocean” on PBS. Safina is founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University.