Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a long-time skeptic of the proposed Pebble mine project, is now pledging to take further congressional action, including the use of the federal appropriations process, to protect the ecologically sensitive Bristol Bay region.
Speaking virtually at the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) annual convention last week, Murkowski, who serves as chairwoman of both the Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she would use spending legislation to protect Bristol Bay, which is home to the world’s biggest salmon run and one of its largest commercial fisheries.
“I recognize the need for new economic development in Southwest Alaska, I think we all do,” she said in a speech before the AFN. “But I simply think this is the wrong mine in the wrong place.”
Murkowski previously submitted language in the fiscal 2020 Interior-Environment spending bill that directed the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the agency responsible for Pebble’s permitting process, to conduct a more rigorous environmental assessment of the project’s risks.
“I plan to build on my appropriations language from last year to make sure that the Bristol bay region remains protected,” Murkowski told AFN, making it clear that she opposes the project throughout the conference call.
While the Republican Senator has questioned the Corps’ environmental review that began more than two years ago, she first issued a statement opposing the project receiving a permit on August 24. She was also joined that day by Senator Dan Sullivan, who also publicly expressed his opposition to the mine for the first time.
The agency had asked Northern Dynasty Minerals, the Canadian-based company behind Pebble, to submit a mitigation plan on how it would alleviate the project’s adverse environmental impacts. That report is due next month, which will set the stage for a permit decision.
Murkowski warned that although Pebble has been “stopped” for now, the project could still receive a permit for construction from the Corps.
The proposed copper, gold and molybdenum mine, along with Northern Dynasty, has come under scrutiny and political pressure over the recent weeks.
In September, an environmental group released secretly recorded tapes of company executives pushing for approval and making remarks about both Murkowski and Sullivan, leading to the resignation of Pebble Partnership chief Tom Collier soon after.