Murkowski’s latest Pebble action disappoints mine opponents

Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2017. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Opponents of the Pebble Mine are underwhelmed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s latest bill to fund federal resource agencies.

Murkowski has an opportunity to erect hurdles for Pebble, as chair of the appropriations subcommittee that writes the annual bills to sustain the Interior Department and environmental agencies.

She released the bill Tuesday, and she included a 240-word passage on Pebble in the report that interprets the spending bill.

“I just hope that there’s more to come from the senator,” said SalmonState director Tim Bristol.

He said Murkowski appears to have passed up a chance to demonstrate that she really meant what she said in October, when she called it the wrong mine in the wrong place.

“I think if we would’ve seen something that essentially recommended no spending be allowed in the next fiscal year to move forward with the Pebble project, that would’ve been a little more reassuring. But this doesn’t do that,” Bristol said. “It just seems to sort of describe the situation as it is right now.”

Murkowski’s Pebble passage reiterates that the Army Corps of Engineers has determined the mine can’t be permitted as proposed. It notes that Pebble has until mid-November to come up with a wetlands mitigation plan. The report also says that if the Pebble Limited Partnership can’t come up with a complete and functional plan by the deadline, the Senate Appropriations Committee encourages the government to deny the permit.

Murkowski told an E&E News reporter she thinks Pebble won’t be able to submit a plan that meets the requirements.

Murkowski spokeswoman Karina Borger said the senator wanted the Corps to know that it must hold the mitigation plan to a high standard, and that if Pebble can’t meet it, now is the time to end the process.

Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said the company is still on track to produce a mitigation plan by Nov. 18. Pebble maintains the mine would do no measurable damage to the salmon populations of Bristol Bay.

Pebble officials have said they expect the Corps of Engineers could issue a permit decision before President Donald Trump leaves office and that it would be hard for President-elect Joe Biden to reverse course.