Army Corps delays Pebble Mine over ‘adverse impacts’ and ‘degradation’
The federal government is requiring the company behind the Pebble Mine to take extra steps to mitigate “unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources,” delaying its final decision on the project.
A letter, dated last week but published online on Monday, follows political pressure from conservatives, including Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who have rallied against the mine, which would be located at a prominent sockeye salmon fishery in Alaska.
Prior to the new letter, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) issued an environmental impact statement that found that the proposed project would not impact salmon harvests in the area, reversing an Obama-era determination that it would. The most recent assessment also said the project would impact wetlands and streams.
Now, the Army Corps is giving Pebble Limited Partnership, the company behind the mine, 90 days to submit a plan to mitigate impacts such as discharges into wetlands, waters and streams.
The Army Corps said it will “review the compensatory mitigation plan upon submittal to determine if the amount and type of compensatory mitigation offered is sufficient to offset the identified unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources and overcome significant degradation at the mine site.”
The letter said that discharges from the mine site would directly or indirectly affect 2,825 acres of wetlands, 132.5 acres of open waters and 129.5 miles of streams and that discharges from its transportation corridor would impact 460 acres of wetlands, 231.7 acres of open waters and 55.5 miles of streams.
Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier on Monday downplayed the significance of the new requirements from the Army Corps of Engineers.
“Based on our understanding of the substance of the letter, our discussions with the state, our substantial work in the field and our discussions with the USACE we believe our final Comprehensive Management Plan submission will be submitted within weeks and will satisfy all of the requirements of the letter,” Collier said in a statement.
“Anyone suggesting a different opinion—i.e. that Pebble will not be able to comply with the letter or that such compliance will significantly delay issuing a [decision]—must be ignorant of the EXTENSIVE preparation we have undertaken in order to meet the requirements of the letter,” he added, saying the company “will share more details of our initial plan as they become more defined.”
Collier denied that the recent attention from prominent conservatives played a role in the USACE’s letter.
“A clear reading of the letter shows it is entirely unrelated to recent tweets about Pebble and one-sided news shows. The White House had nothing to do with the letter … This is the next step in what has been a comprehensive, exhaustive two-and-a-half-year review of the project. Nothing in the letter is a surprise to us or them,” he said.
Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the letter will likely cause a “very significant” delay to the project.
“The problem with Pebble is that it has always been the wrong mine in the wrong place,” Reynolds told The Hill. “A massive open pit at the headwaters of the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery is a project whose impacts cannot be mitigated.”
He also said it was highly unusual for the government to require a new mitigation plan this late in the game.
“These sorts of issues typically have been resolved by this stage,” Reynolds said. “This has become public only after the final environmental impact statement has been issued. That’s remarkable.”
Alaska’s two Republican senators released statements in support of the Army Corps decision, saying on Monday they don’t want the government to issue a permit for the mine as it is currently proposed.
“I understand, respect, and support this decision. I agree that a permit should not be issued. And I thank the administration for its commitment to the protection of this world-class watershed and salmon fishery,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
“Pebble, like all resource development projects in Alaska, has to pass a high bar – a bar that the Trump administration has determined Pebble has not met. I support this conclusion – based on the best available science and a rigorous, fair process – that a federal permit cannot be issued,” added Sen. Dan Sullivan.
In recent weeks, some conservatives have expressed concerns about the project. Following his son’s opposition, President Trump said he would look at “both sides” of the issue.
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed under the Obama administration to preemptively veto a permit for the mine. The Trump administration reversed that action last year.
Updated at 3:39 p.m.