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A crucial victory, but lasting protections for Alaska’s Bristol Bay are still needed

Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit for the proposed Pebble Mine, saying that the massive gold and copper mine does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines and that it is “contrary to the public interest.”

The proposed mine, located at the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay, imperils the world’s largest and most valuable wild salmon fishery, which generates $1.5 billion in annual revenue, 14,000 jobs, and provides the world with healthy, sustainable wild salmon.

Although Pebble pulled every trick in the book, the science prevailed. The proposed mine would have devastating impacts to Bristol Bay rivers and streams, with no effective means of mitigation.

A long and winding road!

 For more than a decade, Earthworks has worked to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay from large-scale mining. In collaboration with our Alaska partners, we have:

  • Convinced prominent jewelry retail companies, such as Tiffany & Co., Helzberg Diamonds, and Zales, to publicly support Bristol Bay protections.
  • Taken to boardrooms from London to Toronto with Alaska Native leaders and commercial fishermen to dissuade major mining companies like Anglo American, Rio Tinto and First Quantum from investing in Pebble.
  • Brought some of the best scientific minds together to analyze the mine’s impacts and expose the gaping problems.
  • Rallied public support by writing op-eds, testifying at public hearings, lobbying Congress, and generally telling anyone and everyone that Bristol Bay is no place for a gold mine. 

While we celebrate this victory, we must keep in mind that our work is not done. Pebble has already announced its intent to appeal the Corp’s decision.  While the Corp’s recent permit denial is an important milestone, it does not permanently protect Bristol Bay from future mining.

What’s next?

Fortunately, President-elect Biden took a public position against the Pebble Mine during his campaign.  Now we need the Biden Administration to use Clean Water Act protections to restrict mine waste disposal in Bristol Bay waters. Only then will Bristol Bay have the certainty it is seeking for the salmon-rich waters that are central to its culture, power the economy, and help feed the nation. Earthworks is proud to be a part of this effort. We will continue to support Alaska Native communities, commercial fishermen, and our conservation partners until these protections are secured.