More than 900 people gathered to oppose the Pebble Mine yesterday in Anchorage, Alaska. Hundreds rallied outside the Dena’ina convention center where inside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held the last of several public hearings on its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Pebble Mine—a gold and copper mine proposed at the headwaters of the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery in Bristol Bay.
“Salmon Forever, Pebble Never” was just one of many anti-Pebble chants heard at the rally, which energized around 500 people outside the convention center demonstrating to protect Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine—and the Corps’ reckless rush to permit it.
Inside, indigenous subsistence users, commercial fishermen, sportsmen, scientists, conservationists, business owners, bear-lovers, and concerned citizens testified against both the behemoth Pebble Mine and the Corps’ woefully inadequate draft EIS.
People spoke from the heart, beseeching the Corps to prioritize their communities, culture, lives, and livelihoods over the profits of a foreign mining company.
“Our people have been saying ‘no Pebble Mine’ for over a decade,” said Second Chief for Curyung Tribal Council and Director of Natural Resources for Bristol Bay Native Association Gayla Hoseth. “We are sick and tired of the greed and the lies. Yet we are here again to comment on an inadequate draft EIS based on Pebble’s incomplete application to build a mine in our pristine environment, because we want to protect this last wild salmon run on earth as it exists today, for this generation and for future generations.”
Many commenters echoed that sentiment, noting our obligation to protect Bristol Bay for future generations.
“I’m a fifth-generation commercial fisherman,” said Emily Taylor, a 15-year-old who fishes in the Naknek-Kvichak district every summer. “And the permit I now hold once belonged to my great, great grandmother.” She wants to pass the fishing tradition onto her grandchildren but fears the Pebble Mine will destroy their heritage. “Do you think they’ll ask me about this day? What I did to stop it? I don’t want that to become my reality,” she said, adding that her people had been fighting to stop Pebble her entire life.
Numerous commenters focused on the inadequacies of the draft EIS.
Daniel Schindler, Ph.D. and Professor of Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, described the draft DEIS as junk: “The reality is, if you put garbage into [an EIS] process, you get garbage out of a process. And what we’re looking at here with the Draft EIS is one that distinctly underestimates risks to fish, to water, and to people. It is junk. The draft EIS should be thrown out.”
Other scientists described the draft EIS in similarly negative terms, going so far as to use descriptors such as “lies,” “fantasy,” “fiction,” and “slipshod.”
The Army Corps of Engineers did not allow everyone to testify publicly and closed public comment at 8 pm sharp. The clock ran out on dozens of people still waiting to speak—including two small children who skipped dinner to wait hours for their turn. Instead of listening to everyone who showed up to speak, the Corps directed the public to provide written comments online.
This is just another—albeit egregious—example of how the Corps is unnecessarily fast-tracking the permitting process at the expense of interested stakeholders. The process is broken and the fix is in.
The Corps is accepting public comment until May 30th. Make your voice heard today.
I attended the hearing and gave the following testimony:
My name is Taryn Kiekow Heimer and I am here on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council and our more than 3 million members and activists.
In the last 5 years alone, tailings dams have failed across Brazil, Canada, the United States, and Mexico, killing hundreds of people and leaving a dead zone of polluted water.
Mining companies and regulators alike promised it would never happen. We’re now hearing the same empty promises from Pebble.
The law requires the Army Corps to do more than simply take Pebble at its word.
But the DEIS fails to do so—just like all those failed tailings dams across the world.
First, the DEIS fails to meet the basic requirements of NEPA and the Clean Water Act by fast-tracking the permitting process; by underestimating the long-term risks to people, water, wildlife and fish; by discounting Pebble’s unprecedented water treatment plan; and by ignoring impacts associated with fully developing the Pebble Mine, including the mining district in Bristol Bay that Pebble would ignite.
Second, the DEIS fails the people of Bristol Bay—who overwhelmingly oppose the Pebble Mine. It’s ignored numerous requests to pause the permitting process and extend the public comment period. People in Bristol Bay provided heart-felt testimony asking the Corps to prioritize their communities, culture, lives and livelihoods over the Pebble Mine. How can the Corps make a positive public interest determination when the public overwhelming rejects the mine?
Third, the DEIS fails to ask the biggest question of all: whether Pebble’s mine plan is even feasible. Pebble hasn’t submitted an economic feasibility study like all other mining companies have done before permitting. When the Corps asked for this information in an RFI, Pebble said it couldn’t disclose it without running afoul of Canadian Securities regulations prohibiting investor fraud and misrepresentation. Richard Borden, a 23-year veteran from Rio Tinto with experience in permitting more than 50 mines, did the math and found not only that Pebble, as proposed, is economically infeasible but that is has a net present value of negative $3 billion. Why is this project even going through permitting? A project that isn’t feasible by definition does not meet the LEDPA standard.
Finally, the DEIS fails to address what concerns people the most—a catastrophic dam failure.
Think of what a Pebble Mine disaster would do to Bristol Bay—what it would do to the communities who rely on subsistence fishing, the $1.5 billion annual commercial fishery that supports 14,000 jobs, and the people, businesses, and wildlife that rely on the prolific salmon runs.
We cannot afford to fail in Bristol Bay. I urge you to do the right thing. Listen to the people who would be impacted most, revise this DEIS, and ultimately deny Pebble’s permit application.
Taryn Keikow Heimer is Deputy Director of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) Marine Mammal Protection Project.