A federal judge on Monday denied the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ request to amend his earlier ruling regarding TC Energy’s Keystone XL pipeline, reaffirming that a permit issued by the Army Corps was invalid.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled again that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) violated the Endangered Species Act when it issued Nationwide Permit 12, which allows companies to construct energy projects at water crossings.
“The court rightly ruled that the Trump administration can’t continue to ignore the catastrophic effects of fossil fuel pipelines like Keystone XL.”
—Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity
Climate action and Indigenous rights campaigners have for years fought the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which if built would cross bodies of water hundreds of times along its nearly 1,200-mile route from Alberta to Nebraska. TC Energy plans to send tar sands oil along the route, which opponents say would put Indigenous communities as well as wildlife at risk for dangerous leaks and exposure to toxic waste.
“The court rightly ruled that the Trump administration can’t continue to ignore the catastrophic effects of fossil fuel pipelines like Keystone XL,” said Jared Margolis, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Constructing pipelines through rivers, streams, and wetlands without analyzing the impacts on imperiled species is unconscionable.”
The USACE had asked Morris to narrow his April 15 ruling, but the judge only changed his decision on Nationwide Permit 12 to allow non-pipeline construction, such as electrical transmission lines, to move forward.
“Our courts have shown time and time again that the law matters,” said Cecilia Segal, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) attorney. “Today’s ruling makes clear that climate-busting pipelines like Keystone XL cannot be built until the federal government does its job and properly analyzes these projects’ devastating effects on their surrounding communities and wildlife. If that analysis is based on science and facts, pipelines like Keystone XL will never see the light of day because they remain, and always will be, a dire threat to our water, wildlife, and climate.”
John Chao created this beautiful photography book and has a chapter about Standing Rock. Check it out. People who were there have their names listed. I am listed there and am very proud to say that I was there, I was a witness, I contributed, and I tried to help in any way I could by waking up my school community on Sacramento to what was going on in North Dakota.
The struggle continues as we battle through a rogue government and a pandemic.
It will always be the artist, writers, and educators who will document and tell the tale.
It’s more important now than ever to unite and support each other. That’s why, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we’re launching a massive livestream from April 22-24 where you can join activists, celebrities, musicians, and more in an epic moment of community and hope for our future. Together, we’ll:
Drive donations to benefit the COVID-19 relief effort
Call on world leaders to take emergency action to build a more sustainable and just world
Inspire millions to pledge to vote for our future.
For 50 years, we’ve been losing the fight for our planet. But we can make this the century we saved the world — starting on Earth Day. Here’s how you can spread the word and make this as big as possible.
Two pueblos in New Mexico have some of the highest infection rates in the United States. The numbers are stark. Zia Pueblo has 31 confirmed positive cases with a population of 900 people. And San Felipe has 52 cases with a population of 2,200.
Ravn Air carried passengers, food, freight and mail to more than 120 communities announced it’s ending service to all but 11 villages. Ravn Air sent the message at 6 a.m. telling employees to stop operations that day.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said there are “’incredible spikes” of coronavirus cases in the Navajo Nation and that the virus could “wipe out” some tribal nations, according to a recording of a call between Trump and the nation’s governors obtained by ABC News.
“We’re seeing incredible spikes in the Navajo Nation, and this is going to be an issue where we’re going to have to figure that out and think about maybe testing and surveillance opportunities,” Grisham said.
Indian Country Today Reporters’ Roundtable, March 30
Another Monday. Another tranche of global COVID-19 cases on National Doctors Day. There are now more than 122,000 cases in the United States, resulting in 2,112 deaths. And in Indian Country there are 190 cases with at least 10 deaths confirmed.
The Lummi Nation in Washington state reported the sharpest increase so far this week. There are now 16 positive cases, 12 of them being Lummi citizens, and nine people who live on the Lummi Reservation. Two of the cases include members of the Lummi Business Council. The identified cases are likely to go up — there are 22 more cases pending, according to the tribe’s public health department.
Meskwaki Nation among others in Indian Country with confirmed cases
Weekends are usually days when people take time off. Not these days as the number of positive coronavirus cases continue to grow in Indian Country. Over the weekend, tribal nations reported new numbers, instituted new curfews and organizations asked for more donations to send to both students and community members. Others used this time to connect on social media. In Iowa, a 31-year-old Meskwaki woman was confirmed positive for the virus, the Times Republican reported. She has been identified as Lindsey Johnson.
‘Three weeks ago we were doing great! And now we’re done.’
It’s a sparse lunch crowd at the Bee Line Cafe in Payson, Arizona. Only four tables have guests seated and eating. Business has slowed considerably in the past week says owner Kassie Sexton.“People are not wanting to come in because they’re afraid they’re going to get cooties.” She laughs nervously as she looks around her nearly empty cafe.
The sweeping bill that President Donald Trump signed will help better equip health care systems that serve Native Americans, improve the emergency response time on tribal lands, provide economic relief for tribal members, and help with food deliveries to low-income families and the elderly.
Tribes have been lobbying Congress to help address shortfalls in an already underfunded health care system and to ensure the federal government fulfills its obligation to them under treaties and other acts. While the $10 billion for tribes in the $2.2 trillion package is less than they requested, tribes say it represents progress.
The number of coronavirus cases is growing globally.
On Saturday, 103,321 cases were reported in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making the U.S. the country with the highest number of confirmed cases and 1,668 people have died from coronavirus-related complications.
Italy’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic is the highest in the world, with over 10,000 fatalities.
Updated: New coronavirus cases on the Navajo Nation have increased by 20 on Wednesday, from 49 to 69
Tribes in Minnesota are the latest across Indian Country to fall under a statewide stay-at-home order in the fight to prevent the coronavirus spread.Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order on Wednesday ordering Minnesota residents in nonessential jobs to stay at home. The order begins midnight Friday and is scheduled to run through April 10.
The Senate and White House reached an agreement on the bailout funds for America, the largest in history. The $2 trillion relief package includes $8 billion for tribal governments and $2 billion for emergency supplemental funding for federal Indian programs.
The Senate vote on the agreement is set to happen this afternoon. Even if passed by the Senate, they would need House approval.
Two Arizona tribes in the Phoenix valley see their first COVID-19 cases while the Navajo Nation adds 20 more reports. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community reported its first case and the Gila River Indian Community has two positive cases.
Generations and generations … have had to deal with these pandemics and these viruses, and they’ve also had to get up in the morning and feed themselves, and make things run for society’
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for people arriving from out of state to slow the spread of COVID-19. On Sunday Hawaii Governor David Ing took the action for travelers headed there.
Surgeon General: ‘America … It’s going to get bad’
This morning U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said on national television, “I want America to understand this week, it’s going to get bad.” As if he needed proof, the number of positive cases for COVID-19 listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doubled over the weekend. There are now 33,404 cases and 400 people across the country have died.
Zibaaska’iganagooday is the exploding sound in the Ojibwe language and it has a long history of healing
Community song and dance have always been a part of healing and prayer for Native people. In this time of social distancing, however, people are putting a digital spin on these healing traditions. People all over Indian Country are organizing virtual powwows and other social dances via social media as a means to offer hope and spiritual support during the Covid19 pandemic
Swords, rez dogs, Indian Country adventures and more
Bored at home? Nonsense. Practicing safe social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic can also mean opportunity. We can finally catch up on all the streaming shows, Native YouTubers, read all the books we never have time for and listen to all the saved podcast episodes tucked away on our devices.
American Indians and Alaska Natives clustered in camps or on the streets; ‘It’s been a crazy time’
Every major city has a virtual suburb for the homeless. Homes consisting of tents, scrap wood, shopping baskets and cardboard boxes. In shelters, a family dwelling might have a common kitchen and bedrooms with bunk beds. Others may have a large room filled with dozens of bunk beds or canvas cots. Some have dozens of rubber-coated thick pads placed a foot apart in rows laid across a concrete floor.
The number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Navajo Nation has grown to 14, a dramatic increase from the three confirmed cases reported only a day ago.
The announcement came hours after a 55-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen was the first coronavirus related death in Oklahoma. Before the Navajo Nation announcement late Thursday, March 19, there were nine cases confirmed in the Indian health system.
The Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma have confirmed the first COVID-19 related death, according to the Cherokee Phoenix. A 55-year-old Cherokee man died on March 18 after fighting a cold and then contracted the coronavirus disease.
The death of a tribal citizen that has been confirmed is one of the nine cases reported in the Indian health system as of March 19. On Wednesday, the Navajo Nation confirmed its third case, a 62-year-old Navajo man.
The Lummi Nation in Washington state has confirmed three positive COVID-19 cases, according to Tony Hillaire, chief of staff of the Lummi Indian Business Council. This adds to the total of seven within the Indian health system; one in the Portland Area of the Indian Health Service, one in the Great Plains area and two in the Navajo region.
Of the three Lummi cases, one is a Lummi citizen who resides on the reservation. The other two cases are residents of King and Whatcom counties.
Aƞpétu wašté (Good day)! I hope you are staying well, and I want you to know that we’re praying for all our relations impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. One benefit of sheltering in place is that we’re able to keep our eyes peeled for important news. In case you missed it, I wanted to highlight a recent attack on Indigenous sovereignty and ask for your solidarity for our Mashpee relatives.
At the end of last month, the Department of Interior announced that 321 acres of land will be taken out of trust, effectively revoking the reservation status of the Mashpee Wampanoag people of Massachusetts. For those who learned the Thanksgiving story in elementary school, the Wampanoag people broke bread with the Pilgrims in Plymouth colony, and it was Wampanoag land that the Pilgrims took. And now, in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic, President Trump’s cabinet is moving to rescind the sovereign status of these people.
The Lakota People’s Law Project stands with the Mashpee Wampanoag in the struggle to defend their birthright to live on the land of their ancestors, and we ask that you take a few moments to watch my video and #StandWithMashpee too.
President Obama placed the land in question into trust in 2015, but that decision has been reversed under Trump. A reinterpretation by our executive branch of a 2009 Supreme Court decision now only grants trust status to tribes recognized before 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act was signed. Because the Mashpee weren’t federally recognized until 2007, they’ve now lost their status. As Jessie Little Doe Baird, vice chair of the tribe, said “they came for our children and took them to Carlisle because we were ‘too Indian.’ Today, they tell us we are not Indian enough.”
The Mashpee, who have lived in the Massachusetts area for over 12,000 years, are being denied their right to autonomy. With federal trust status comes the right to manage, develop, and tax a parcel of land. This “disestablishment” of the Mashpee reservation will likely force the closure of the tribal court and police department; it will cost Native people their livelihoods in an already barren economic landscape.
This blatant land-grab isn’t even court-ordered — the directive came from Trump’s Department of the Interior. Now, the Mashpee have asked a D.C. court to issue an emergency restraining order to prevent the dissolution of trust status, and Massachusetts senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey have vowed to combat this assault on the tribe’s self-determination, saying “We will not allow the Mashpee Wampanoag to lose their homeland.”
We Native people have struggled to retain less than 2.5 percent of our lands since European contact. The Indian Wars, in essence, have never truly ended. The United States’ long history of systemically suppressing Native rights continues, and in 2020, land trust removal is the latest iteration of that same legacy of colonialism. We are disheartened, but as Indigenous people and allies, we have each others’ backs in the face of adversity. You can stand for sovereignty by standing with the Mashpee people in their time of need.
Wopila — thank you. Solidarity forever,
Chase Iron Eyes
The Lakota People’s Law Project
First of all, from my home in Cheyenne River to yours wherever you may be, I hope you are staying safe and well. Over my years, I’d come to think maybe I’d seen it all — but not so! One thing I know is that we’ll only get through this period of separation and hardship by sticking together. So I write to you today with an opportunity to help make a real difference that could save lives.
Please join us in telling Montana stop KXL construction now, before it spreads COVID-19 on tribal nations.
As I have shared with you previously, we Native women have been hard at work organizing our communities to prepare for the dangers KXL poses. The man camps that house oil workers were already scary before we knew they could become petri dishes for the virus. Allowing two of them near our reservation just increases our peril.
But allow them, Trump will. He’s cynically using the pandemic to take full advantage of our inability to engage in grassroots organizing on the ground. On March 31, TC Energy announced a final decision to complete KXL, explicitly thanking the president for giving the go-ahead. Three days later, Trump tweeted his happiness.
Though TC Energy has claimed it will follow procedures to limit the spread of the virus, Republican Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts has said that he won’t expect workers traveling from out of state to be quarantined. Meanwhile, here in South Dakota, Republican governor Kristi Noem has steadfastly refused to institute shelter-in-place mandates or close businesses, despite 447 documented positive tests and six deaths in our state.
We must lean on the Democrat, Bullock, to do the right thing. He has, at least, waffled on KXL. On the one hand, he said, “Look — if it’s done right, we can’t take it off the table.” On the other hand, he’s commented that the Department of State failed to adequately consider the pipeline’s environmental impacts, and he’s expressed concern about the threat to Montana’s water from a leak or spill. Bullock has also criticized the Trump administration’s failure to adequately consult with Native American tribes affected by the pipeline — a major reason to hope he’ll listen to us now.
It’s worth noting that KXL has many of the same weaknesses in its design and approval process as the Dakota Access pipeline, which — partially due to safety concerns including an inadequate leak detection system — just had its federal permits revoked by a court ruling. Let’s protect public safety and stop KXL construction.
Wopila tanka — I thank you, sincerely, for your life-saving activism!
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout the nation, we’re aware that it could have an outsized impact on Indian Country. Relief programs may not provide needed tests and medical supplies for us — or anyone — on an appropriate scale. Please know we are monitoring this, and as my colleague Chase Iron Eyes mentioned a few days ago, we’ll keep you updated on developments. May we all stay safe and healthy.
In the meantime, I write with some wonderful news. Just yesterday, Standing Rock won a big victory in the ongoing legal battle against the Dakota Access pipeline when a federal judge granted the tribe’s request to strike down DAPL’s federal permits!
The judge ruled that Trump’s Army Corps of Engineers must complete a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) — the much more comprehensive review we’ve all been demanding since the beginning of this movement (and that President Obama required, only to be reversed by Trump). The Corps fell short in three specific ways, according to the judge.
First, the Corps failed to respond adequately to claims by the tribe’s experts that DAPL’s leak detection system is wholly inadequate. Second, the company’s dreadful history of oil spills wasn’t properly addressed. Finally, the oil company failed to account for the adverse repercussions a “worst case discharge” might have on our treaty rights — our ability to hunt, fish, and perform traditional religious ceremonies near Lake Oahe, which the pipeline crosses under.
I was asked by the tribal chairman to represent Standing Rock’s interests at the hearing in Washington, D.C., but I couldn’t go because of Coronavirus travel restrictions. I’m gratified that, despite our troubles, we have been victorious, at least for now.
The logic of the judge’s ruling suggests the pipeline should not remain operational without a federal permit. The ruling actually references both the Titanic and Chernobyl concerning the possibility of human error, and I’m hopeful shutting down the flow will be the judge’s next step. He has now requested legal briefs on that issue.
Please stay tuned, as we hope to share more good news soon. In the meantime, stay safe and please listen to the medical professionals with knowledge about the requirements of this pandemic. We’re all in this together.
Wopila tanka — as always, we’re so grateful to you for standing with Standing Rock and Mother Earth.
Standing Rock Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project
Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859
The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.
After four days of meetings between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser, an agreement appears to be reached to acknowledge Wet’suwet’en traditional leaders as rights holders over their territory.
The dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline isn’t over by any means — the majority of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs still oppose the project and the agreement must be presented to their nation — but this is the first step to reconcile what had become a national stalemate between traditional Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state.
The implications of Canada and B.C. recognizing a traditional Indigenous government are enormous. This not only ratifies the 1997 Supreme Court Delgamuukw decision (which also determined the Wet’suwet’en hold title over 22,000 square kilometres of territory) but opens the doorway for First Nations traditional forms of government — virtually gutting one of the most central tenets of the Indian Act: the Chief and Council system.
Now, Canada and B.C. must invite the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to treaty negotiations over land. The future role of the Wet’suwet’en Indian Act chiefs and councils — most of whom signed “benefit agreements” to receive money and jobs as a result of the pipeline — is now uncertain.
In fact, the future of the Indian Act may be in doubt too. For decades, consecutive federal governments have promised to remove the 148 year-old legislation intended to assimilate “Indians” into Canada. Now, pressure will be on as some First Nations may refuse to govern themselves according to the chief and council model. This, above the pipeline project itself, may be the lasting legacy of Sunday’s agreement.
Recognizing Indigenous traditional governments also represents an ironic moment where Canada and B.C. will follow the “rule of law.” Not only did the Supreme Court recognize Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in 1997 but last November the province of BC unanimously adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples via Bill 41, “The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.”
If B.C. follows through on implementing the Declaration, they must reconcile that Indigenous peoples “have the right to self-determination” (Article 3), “have the right to autonomy or self-government” (Article 4), and “the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social, and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social, and cultural life of the State” (Article 5).
In this, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs may have shown Canada what reconciliation could look like.
The immediate question though is what’s this mean for the Coastal GasLink pipeline? The agreement doesn’t address that question directly and Coastal GasLink announced Sunday “construction will resume.”
Well Canada’s “duty to consult” under section 35 of the constitution is fulfilled, this will end in the courts.
This could be found through B.C.’s Bill 41, which directs the provincial government to appoint a member of the B.C. cabinet to “negotiate and enter into an agreement with an Indigenous governing body” over any use of Indigenous lands and resources, with the purpose to obtain “the consent of the Indigenous governing body before the exercise of a statutory power of decision.”
These negotiations could even include Indian Act chiefs and councils — appeasing political opponents and even some Wet’suwet’en who believe in them — but this will take time, energy, and resources. This may be exactly what Canada, B.C., and the Wet’suwet’en need — as cooler and calmer airs will likely be found.
Time, however, may be up for the Coastal GasLink’s $6.6-billion 670-kilometre pipeline project (190 kilometres cross Wet’suwet’en territory).
The cost of building the project is already exponentially increasing and if an alternative route is agreed upon this will add hundreds of millions more. Meanwhile, the price of oil and gas is dropping (especially with the coronavirus), the pipeline will consume a huge share of B.C.’s carbon budget, and fracking for gas and the burning of fossil fuels are lacking wide-scale public support.
Soon, the only argument for the pipeline will be within the subsidies, grants, and commitments Canada gives to the corporate sector — who will, in the end, choose profits over the jobs and money the project promises.
Sunday’s agreement may have come from discord, blockades, and a loss of investment but may result in a new relationship with Indigenous nations, the law being followed, and long-term savings due to the cancellation of an unsustainable project with much fewer benefits than advertised.
The journey may be worthwhile but the path was divisive — and it didn’t need to be.
One hundred miles to the west of the proposed mine site is Bristol Bay, home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery
Governmental agencies and tribes are reviewing a proposal to develop a huge mine in Alaska. The Pebble project would be the largest mine in North America and one of largest in the world. The open pit mine would be 2,500 feet, or 7.5 city blocks, long, and 13,000 feet, or 229 stories, deep. The project would include a transportation corridor, a port, a natural gas pipeline, and a heap of waste rock, or tailings, that reach 700 feet, or 64 stories, high.
It will take a large mine to dig up and process massive amounts of rock containing small amounts of valuable minerals. To get at the precious metals, which are valued at $345 to $500 billion, more than a billion tons of ore would be processed at the rate of 180,000 tons per day for 20 years. The Pebble Limited Partnership estimates the proposed site holds 67 million ounces of gold, 50 billion pounds of copper, and 3.3 billion pounds of molybdenum.
One hundred miles to the west of the proposed mine site is Bristol Bay, home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery. The fish return annually to the region’s multitude of rivers, lakes, streams and estuaries to spawn then die.
Alaska Natives have relied on salmon for thousands of years. It’s a major source of protein, and the mainstay of a way of life. The Yup’ik culture in the area has long revolved around fishing and sharing and preserving the harvest. The fishery is now also important to the thousands of people involved in the commercial harvest of salmon. In 2019, commercial fishermen harvested 43 million sockeye salmon valued at $306.7 million, the most in the history of the Bristol Bay fishery.
Seventeen miles from the proposed Pebble mine site is the village of Iliamna, with a population of 109. Leaders there want a seat at the table but remain neutral on the Pebble project itself. Fishermen, tribes, and other villages have come out in opposition. Among other issues, they’re concerned contaminated wastewater will seep through porous soils to the rivers that support salmon.
The prospect of the Pebble mine going forward worries Iliamna villager Louise Anelon, Yup’ik. “There’s a lot of things to worry about for me, as somebody that’s just so used to how it’s going, to how it is right now versus this project and all this noise and people and moving a lot of ground,” Anelon said. “Water could be affected and it’s just lots to worry about for me.”
Plus she said Pebble is coming on top of the effects of climate change: hotter, windier weather; fewer caribou; and late salmon runs. Analon said, “There’s a lot of stuff happening that we can’t see to the eye.
“Then we have this Pebble thing that’s potentially going to happen and that’s a two-time whammy,” Analon said. “I just am afraid for that to happen with so many changes already happening …. we know it’s going to be giving jobs to folks but it’s going to change our land, water, everything, forever. So that’s just my concern right there.
Still, Analon understands the position of many mine supporters. “No job opportunities, I think that’s what most of the folks out here are seeing,” Analon said.
On Feb. 6, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is coordinating review of the permit applications, issued a preliminary final Environmental Impact Statement for a 45-day review period. This impact statement builds on and responds to comments made on a draft issued by the Corps last year. The preliminary final environmental impact statement was sent to regulatory agencies and tribes; it is not available to the public or the media.
Public interest in the Pebble project is high, and the amount of public input is enormous. Some 105,000 comments on the draft environmental impact statement were submitted. The list of agencies with oversight is long. And criticism of the draft environmental impact statement was widespread.
Some of the phrases about the draft environmental impact statement that cropped up in agency comments include: “lacks certain critical information,” or “substantial deficiencies and data gaps,” “provides inadequate support for several assumptions,” “underestimates impacts,” “would benefit from being corrected, strengthened or revised.”
One even calls the draft environmental impact statement “so inadequate as to preclude meaningful analysis.”
Under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, title to land was transferred to Native corporations to make money and issue dividends to shareholders. It’s unusual for a Native corporation to oppose resource development. Yet, the Alaska Native for-profit Bristol Bay Native Corporation came out in opposition to the proposed Pebble mine.
It said the proposal is flawed and deficient, but “… enough is known about the potential impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine project to conclude that it cannot be constructed in a way that would not cause significant adverse effects to Bristol bay and its fisheries.” Moreover, the project would “pose too great a risk to our Native way of life and the cultural, subsistence, economic, and ecological resources of the Bristol Bay Region.”
The Native corporation went on to say that it will “not extend to the Pebble Limited Partnership any permission to occupy or trespass our lands or make use of our subsurface resources.”
The rider said adverse impacts to Alaska’s world-class salmon fishery and to the ecosystem of Bristol Bay, Alaska, are unacceptable. The rider stated all the gaps and deficiencies in the draft environmental statement must be addressed. Otherwise, it encouraged agencies to “exercise their discretionary authorities, which include EPA’s enforcement authority under the Clean Water Act, at an appropriate time in the permitting process to ensure the full protection of the region.”
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaking during a Bristol Bay Salmon Week celebration in Washington on Sept. 18, 2019 said if the agencies are unable to address the concerns, then a permit should not be issued. “What we all need to be able to believe is that the science that drives the process can be trusted,” she said, “whether it is this for this project or any other project that is out there.”
Alannah Hurley, Yup’ik, is executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a consortium of 15 tribes in the area of the mine. She said the preliminary final environmental impact statement doesn’t meet the standard set by Congress. She said it continues to have significant data gaps, and the analysis and studies that agencies identified as problematic have not been addressed.
“The reality is we’re facing a process that is ignoring the concerns of Bristol Bay, ignoring the concerns of other scientists across these federal agencies,” Hurley said. “And now we’re dealing with a Corps who is ignoring Congress as well, and they need to be held accountable.”
She said the root of the problems is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is determined to get permits issued as soon as possible, no matter what the consequences.
“The big take home is that this process has been rushed from the get go,” Hurley said. “If the Corps remains on its published calendar, we will have a permit in two and a half years for the largest mine in North America, and at the headwaters of the last great sockeye salmon fishery left on the face of the planet.”
Hurley compared the Corps handling of the Pebble proposal to review of permit applications for another proposed gold mine in Alaska. Donlin “was much more of a regular process,” Hurley said. “And that took almost seven years to complete. Yet it’s a fraction of the size of what Pebble is proposing here.” (The average review period is 4.5 years according to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.)
Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier, in a prepared statement said, “Comments that the Corps ignored comments submitted on the draft [environmental impact statement] were incorrect and irresponsible. Just because some of the groups opposed to Pebble do not like the conclusions … does not mean that the is not valid. Rather, the work on this issue is sound. It is defensible and it should be commended for its completeness.”
Collier said the preliminary final environmental impact statement supports the Pebble Partnership’s views. “The information in the near final report was positive and demonstrates the project can be done without harming the Bristol Bay fishery and would be beneficial to communities closest to the project.”
The state of Alaska favors the Pebble project. In Dec. 2019, CNN reported that Governor Mike Dunleavy used materials, sometimes verbatim, provided to him by the Pebble Partnership in comments to the Corps. A Pebble spokesperson told the Juneau Empire that such collaboration is common.
The final environmental impact statement is due for release in mid-2020. The Corps’ options are to issue a permit, issue one with conditions, or deny the application. A Record of Decision will come at least 30 days after the Final Environmental Impact Statement is released, probably in the Fall.
Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a long-time Alaska journalist.