Photo by Erin McKittrick,

Update 11/25/20: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined the plan for the proposed Pebble mine does not comply with the Clean Water Act, and has denied the long-debated project a permit. This is a major development in the ongoing effort to protect wild salmon runs in the pristine waters of Southwest Alaska. For details see The Anchorage Daily News' update and our most recent article on the mine’s threat to the Bristol Bay watershed.


The Pebble Mine, an extensive mining scheme proposed for the headwaters of southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay, appears likely to receive a permit to operate late this summer, according to a July 13 statement from Joel Reynolds, Western Director of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

That’s almost certainly bad news. We’ve covered this proposed mine extensively in these pages, and the threat it poses to the spawning grounds of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run – the Kvichak and Nushagak river systems that feed Bristol Bay.

According to Reynolds, the mine, which would excavate an 11-billion-ton deposit of gold, copper, and molybdenum, is back on track following over a decade of opposition:

Widely considered dead, massive mining scheme proposed for Bristol Bay headwaters by [an] underfunded Canadian company is likely to be permitted this summer by Army Corps of Engineers despite unsolved technical, financial, and environmental flaws…

Reynolds goes on to summarize the NRDC’s view on why the project should be abandoned:

  • For decades, the people who live in Bristol Bay, Alaska have said in overwhelming numbers that they don’t want the Pebble Mine, with a strong 62 percent state-wide also opposed, according to a new poll released just days ago.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has determined that even a mine one-sixth the size of that now proposed for permitting could cause “catastrophic” harm to the region and its world class wild salmon fishery.
  • Four of the world’s major mining companies have walked away from the project—Mitsubishi (2011), Anglo American (2013), Rio Tinto (2014), and First Quantum Minerals (2018)—in the face of local opposition and the financial and technical risks of the project.
  • And there is reputational risk, since there is no more widely-condemned mining project anywhere today than the Pebble Mine.

The mine project is now owned by a small company known as Northern Dynasty Minerals. Critics claim the company’s lack of funding makes it unlikely to take necessary environmental or social precautions.

Vital Choice founder Randy Hartnell has long added his voice to those of many opposing the mine. His latest statement:

The Pebble Mine would be the largest open-pit mine in North America, located at the headwaters of the largest wild sockeye salmon fishery left in the world.

Each year tens of millions of these fish return to the Bristol Bay region, where they provide thousands of jobs and ultimately become one of the most natural, healthy, and sustainable foods available, not only for humans but for more than 100 other species as well. 

It’s utterly absurd to think that you could put a mine this size there and have no effect on the fish.

The mine’s massive 700-foot-high tailings dam is to be constructed in a highly complex, geologically unstable environment.

It’s intended to store 30 billion cubic feet of toxic waste forever. If it should ever fail, its contaminants would be released into one of the most pristine places one can imagine.

I’m not opposed to mining. My ancestors were Cornish miners. But Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place.

The Army Corps of Engineers has reported a final environmental impact statement will be released July 24, setting the stage for a final federal decision on the permit in late August.

This situation is complex and fast-changing. For more information, please see:

Our own coverage of the mine project.

The NRDC’s statement from Reynolds.

Recent Anchorage Daily Press coverage.

If you choose to do so, here is a petition to sign voicing opposition to the permitting: