Pebble tries to discredit settled science

This headline probably doesn’t surprise you. If you’ve followed along with us, you know that science says a mine of the size, scale, and location of Pebble’s proposal, even in the smallest iteration considered, would threaten the fisheries of Bristol Bay.

What is surprising then? The way in which Pebble is trying to bury that information - telling outright lies to the Alaskan public in attempt to win our support.

As of mid-last year, Pebble launched a tour of presentations around the state trying to make the case for their mine. One of their strategies for doing so seems to be to discredit the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.

As a refresher, the EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA) found that a mine in Bristol Bay could harm to the fisheries, culture and economies of the region even without a catastrophic failure.

The Assessment found that Pebble, even in the smallest size considered by the BBWA, would destroy miles of streams and thousands of acres of wetlands, risk untold future spills and water contamination, and will require maintenance and remediation forever. It found that Pebble would risk ruin to the local economy and culture and goes against the will of 90+% of Alaskans in the region. Given this, the report recommended restrictions on the size of mine that might be permissible in the region.

Since these findings have major implications for Pebble, the company’s presentations call the Watershed Assessment “fake science.” This claim is fake news for many reasons.

We’ll list more proof below but, ultimately, it’s fake news because Pebble’s own CEO, Tom Collier, said so. Privately, Tom Collier acknowledged the validity of the Watershed Assessment.

Here’s the story: Pebble attacked the BBWA in a lawsuit seeking “an injunction barring EPA from using and/or relying in any way on the BBWA.” Pebble then voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit against EPA with prejudice, which means it cannot re-file the case. The settlement, signed by Collier, explicitly says, “EPA may use the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment without limitation.” 

 So, to summarize this turn of events:

  • Pebble voluntarily dismissed its legal challenge against EPA concerning the BBWA. 

  • The BBWA is settled science.

  • Still, Pebble chooses to advance a project that settled science shows could harm Bristol Bay fisheries.

In case that’s not enough to convince you that Pebble attacking the BBWA is absurd, here are more reasons:

  1. The document was twice peer-reviewed by leading scientists and subjected to repeated public comment, which were virtually unanimous in support. This amount of scientific review is nearly unprecedented. Here’s one scientists take on just how thorough this process was.

  2. Four of Pebble’s own potential partners looked closely at Pebble’s proposal and long-standing opposition and ultimately walked away from joining the partnership.

  3. The EPA Inspector General, based on an investigation requested by Pebble’s sole financial backer, Northern Dynasty, found no evidence of agency bias in the document’s creation.

  4. Even our pro-development, former EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, acknowledges the BBWA is sound science. He stated, "It is my judgment at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there. Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection." 

It’s clear that Pebble now wants to discredit the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, which it previously acknowledged is valid. Whether Tom Collier realized he made a mistake or Pebble simply doesn’t like what the Assessment found after all, the science is crystal-clear: some places are too special to risk by large scale mining–and Bristol Bay is atop that list.

Alaskans at a Pebble mine hearing in Anchorage. April, 2017. Photo by Brandon Hill

Alaskans at a Pebble mine hearing in Anchorage. April, 2017. Photo by Brandon Hill