Supreme Court Rules that Pebble Mine Exploration Requires Public Notice and Analysis

Press Release

May 29, 2015
Lisa Oakley

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 29, 2015
Contacts: Kim Williams, Executive Director, Nunamta Aulukestai: 907.842.4404
Bella Hammond, Call Trustees for Press Availability
Valerie Brown, Legal Director, Trustees for Alaska: 907.433.2014

Supreme Court Rules that Pebble Mine Exploration Requires Public Notice and Analysis

Anchorage, Alaska—Today, the Alaska Supreme Court issued an opinion that protects Alaskan’s right to know about — and to have a say in — how their resources are used. The Court ruled the Alaska Constitution requires the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to provide public notice and to evaluate whether exploration activities for the proposed Pebble Mine are in the public interest. The Court said it best: “The state must know how it should act before it acts.”

The opinion decides the constitutional lawsuit challenging DNR’s permitting of exploration activities at Pebble for over two decades. During that time, DNR provided no public notice and made no findings with respect to impacts to the constitutionally protected land, water, and subsistence resources in the area.

The case was brought by Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of ten village corporations and ten tribes in the Bristol Bay region; former First Lady Bella Hammond; former State constitutional delegate Vic Fischer; and Bristol Bay residents Ricky Delkittie, Sr., and Violet Willson (recently deceased) who are represented by Trustees for Alaska, a non-profit environmental law firm. Mine developer Pebble Limited Partnership was allowed to intervene as a party in the case to defend the permits.

“We applaud the court’s ruling,” said Kim Williams, Executive Director for Nunamta Aulukestai. “As subsistence users of the region, we know that exploration is having a serious impact on land, water, wildlife, and fish. We rely on these resources for survival, yet DNR has never explained these impacts or let us participate in the decisions to allow them. The Alaska Constitution requires it.”
Vic Fischer was also pleased that the Court upheld the intent of the Constitutional Convention delegates. “Article VIII of our state constitution was intended to safeguard the stake we all share in Alaska’s natural resources by requiring that, before they can be given away, there must be public notice and a careful weighing of the public interest. I am thoroughly delighted by the Court’s decision.”

Violet Willson, who recently passed away and lived in Naknek, previously made this statement, “I would be very happy if the court decides against Pebble and the State. Being Alaska Native and born and raised in Bristol Bay, my whole life’s been about salmon. I was a widow at 31, raised five children, and fished commercially. My home was built with salmon money and I never drew welfare. I’ve been against Pebble since the very beginning. I have the right to protect our resources for future generations; this is our land, Alaska land, my land.”

“This decision means that all Alaskans, especially those whose rights and livelihoods are jeopardized by intensive exploration activities like those at Pebble, have the constitutional right to participate in the decisions affecting them,” said Trustees for Alaska Executive Director Vicki Clark. “The State has issued permits behind closed doors without even looking at the harm to public resources.”

The lawsuit was filed in July 2009 against DNR. Pebble Mine exploration and water use has resulted in:

  • drilling over 1,200 boreholes;
  • leaving miles of underground exploration wells, many inadequately plugged, thereby exposing subsurface aquifers to acid rock drainage from the sulfide ore being exposed to air and water;
  • disposing of tens of thousands of gallons of drilling fluids onto the tundra;
  • burying tens of thousands of gallons of drill cuttings and toxic waste (from drilling additives) into unlined pits;
  • flying more than 40,000 documented helicopter trips for exploration, just since 2002, resulting in the displacement of wildlife;
  • spilling fuel and hydraulic fluid at the site;
  • using explosives over the deposit area; and
  • withdrawing millions of gallons of water from lakes and anadromous streams important for spawning Bristol Bay salmon, killing small fish or fry in some cases.

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Trustees for Alaska, established in 1974, is an Alaska-based, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm. Trustees provides legal counsel and services free of charge to community and citizen groups, Native villages, statewide coalitions, conservation groups, hunting and fishing groups, and individual Alaskans, to protect and sustain Alaska’s lands, waters, wildlife, and people.

Court Decision

Read more about Trustees for Alaska’s work to protect Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine.

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