Jul 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Army Corps rules Alaskan mine will not harm salmon fishery

An employee of Northen Dynasty Mines Inc. mans a drilling rig in the Pebble Mine East site near the village of Iliamna, Alaska
An employee of Northen Dynasty Mines Inc. mans a drilling rig in the Pebble Mine East site near the village of Iliamna, Alaska. Photo: Luis Sinco / Getty Images

The Army Corps of Engineers on Friday issued a final report concluding that a proposed Alaskan gold and copper mine would not harm the long-term health of a fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska, reversing Obama-era regulations and policies.

Why it matters: Bristol Bay is home to one of the most important salmon fisheries around the globe. According to the 2014 assessment, it produces nearly half of the world's wild sockeye salmon catch annually and its resources support around 14,000 jobs.

Context: In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that the mine “would result in complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources" in some areas of the bay, effectively stopping the project.

What they're saying: Tom Collier, CEO of the project's developer Pebble Limited Partnership, claimed in a statement Friday that the report shows how the mine can be built without harming the environment.

  • “The final EIS is the first time that a federal agency has engaged in a rigorous review of the specific plan that we intend to use to build this project," Collier said, according to KDLG, a public radio station in Dillingham, Alaska. "After doing that, in the draft and preliminary final, they concluded that the project won’t damage the fishery.”
  • Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, told CNN that similar mines have never coexisted with wild salmon runs.
    • "If this administration values America's food and job security then our federal agencies should be taking an extra hard look at this project and doing everything they can to protect Bristol Bay and its 14,500 fishing and seafood jobs," Wink said.
  • Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she is reviewing the environmental impact assessment, but noted that "adverse impacts to Alaska's world-class salmon fishery and to the ecosystem of Bristol Bay are unacceptable."

The big picture: The Army Corps ruling is a continuation of the Trump administration's reversal of environmental policy approved by the Obama administration.

What's next: The Army Corps now has 30 days to issue a final word on whether the mine will get the federal permit needed to begin construction, according to KDLG.

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