Army Corps of Engineers affirms denial of permit for Pebble Mine

small bodies of water dot the tundra
The proposed Pebble Mine site, pictured in 2014. (Jason Sear/KDLG)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has upheld its denial of a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine, upstream from Bristol Bay. 

The decision issued Monday is the latest in a long string of legal and administrative rulings against the project.

But opponents of the gold mine say their fight isn’t over. 

“Pebble will not be over until we have federal legislation, basically saying Bristol Bay is protected forever, and it’s permanent,” said Lindsey Bloom, a strategist with SalmonState, part of the coalition of tribes, Native corporations, fishermen and lodge owners that has fought the mine for decades. 

More than a year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a final determination that a mine in that area of the Bristol Bay watershed would damage or destroy miles of salmon streams and more than 2,000 acres of wetlands. The decision is referred to as a veto.

In its decision Monday, the Corps said as long as the veto is in place, it can’t issue a permit.

Pebble Vice President Mike Heatwole said the company is focused on a lawsuit seeking to overturn the veto. He points out that the Corps’ decision is based on the veto and it didn’t address Pebble’s points on appeal. 

The Corps specified that its decision is made “without prejudice,” suggesting that Pebble can request a reconsideration if the EPA veto disappears.

For mine opponents like Bloom, the seemingly endless administrative appeals and lawsuits point to the need for Congress to pass a law putting a stop to the project.

“History shows us that the mining industry doesn’t take no for an answer,” she said. “And so they will continue to litigate, most likely, and keep this going for generations to come until we have those permanent protections for Bristol Bay that are so needed.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the Biden administration is about to deal a blow to a different mining proposal in northwest Alaska, the Ambler Mine. The Times says that the Interior Department is going to recommend against a 200-mile road to the copper deposit, finding it would “significantly and irrevocably” hurt the environment and more than 30 tribal communities that fish and hunt in the area. The report is based on anonymous sources. The Interior Department didn’t confirm or deny the story.

Ambler Metals, issued a statement urging the federal agency to reconsider. Kaleb Froehlich the company’s managing director said if the Times report is true, the agency would be making a political decision that ignores local support for the mine and denies jobs to Alaskans. 

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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