The Conservation Column
By Pepper Trail and Juliet Grable
Speak Up for Alaska’s Bristol Bay
Bristol Bay is the huge expanse of the Bering Sea north of the Aleutians and south of Cape Newenham. The bay supports a vast diversity of birds, a vital food web, and a world-class fishery that supports the surrounding communities. Tens of millions of Short-tailed Shearwaters, millions of shorebirds, and more than one million nesting seabirds like Tufted Puffins and Horned Puffins all rely on Bristol Bay. Now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to allow the development of Pebble Mine, an open-pit copper mine above Bristol Bay. A dam failure would wash toxic wastewater through streams and valleys, eviscerating the food web that forms the foundation to Bristol Bay’s incredible bird life and aquatic ecosystem.
National Audubon has prepared a sample letter to be sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. Your comments (personalized if possible) can be sent through National Audubon at: https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/wvnVTIoo0EyiBx45g5_eOA2
I urge you to reject the Pebble Mine, which poses an untenable risk to Bristol Bay’s birds, salmon, and people. Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska is a marine Eden, supporting tens of millions of birds, tens of millions of salmon, thriving local communities, and world-renowned tourism and fishing sectors. Bristol Bay deserves perpetual protection, not perpetual risk from Pebble Mine.
The sheer number of birds that use Bristol Bay is staggering. An estimated 8-13 million pelagic seabirds forage in Bristol Bay. More than one million seabirds such as Tufted Puffins nest in the region. Up to 75,000 threatened Steller’s Eiders use this area. Shorebirds, ducks, geese, and countless other birds flock to forage, rest, and breed in and around Bristol Bay’s rich food web.
The Pebble Mine would place an open-pit copper mine at the headwaters of this astounding marine ecosystem. However, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement entirely fails to consider a catastrophic tailings dam failure, which would send shock waves through the watershed and unleash an ecological disaster of immense proportions. Moreover, Pebble has made no secret of its plans to mine the full mineral deposit. Yet the Corps’ analysis does not acknowledge the inevitable future expansion. Given the unacceptable risk and misleading errors in the analysis, the agency must reject the Pebble application and select the “no action” alternative.
Thanks for all you do!
Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Denies Jordan Cove Permit
Last month, we updated readers on the Jordan Cove Energy Project and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Soon after that issue was published, we learned that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has denied water quality certification, required under the Clean Water Act, to the Jordan Cove LNG terminal and associated Pacific Connector Pipeline. While this is great news, it’s not over yet, as I explained in this story for Earth Island Journal. The following paragraphs are excerpted from that story:
In a letter announcing its decision, the DEQ said “there is insufficient information to demonstrate compliance with water quality standards” and “the available information shows that some standards are more likely than not to be violated.” The DEQ called out several specific concerns related to the project, citing the “expected effects” of construction and operation activities on water temperature and sediment in streams and wetlands and the possible release of drilling materials into the Coos Bay estuary.
Social media lit up with news of the decision. “DEQ’s denial comes with 200 pages of ways Jordan Cove LNG does not comply with Oregon’s water quality standards,” proclaimed the NO LNG Exports Facebook page. “We know they can’t build this project and comply with Oregon’s water laws.”
But even as climate activists, tribal members, landowners, and other citizens celebrate the decision, past experience has taught them to be wary. In the famous words of Monty Python, Jordan Cove is “not quite dead yet.”
The state agency made its decision “without prejudice,” which means the company can submit a new application or new information which addresses inadequacies. Considering the amount of money Calgary-based Pembina Pipeline Corporation has already invested in the project, it seems unlikely that they will simply walk away. The company said in a statement that it is working to “better understand” the decision and its impacts. Meanwhile, the flow of television ads promoting Jordan Cove as an environmentally benign creator of jobs continues unabated.
Interestingly, just days before the DEQ announcement, Pembina announced that it was delaying the project by one year and pulling back funding on activities not related to permitting. The company also has yet to secured so-called “binding offtake agreements” — legally binding agreements between buyer and seller — for the LNG.
The timing of the DEQ decision came as something of a surprise — technically, the agency had until September 24 to make its decision. The Army Corps of Engineers extended the deadline after Pembina withdrew and resubmitted its application last September. Agencies in several states have been encouraging companies to “withdraw and re-submit” in order to extend permitting deadlines and give the agencies more time to decide. However, recent court decisions suggest that agencies employing this strategy may waive the right to grant or deny water quality certification for related projects. To be on the safe side, Oregon DEQ stuck to the original May 7 deadline.