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Pebble Mine executives eye future expansion in recorded conversations

Pebble Mine executives eye future expansion in recorded conversations
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Executives at the companies behind the proposed Pebble Mine have apparently expressed a desire to extend the mine’s lifetime beyond what they had indicated publicly, according to tapes released this week by an environmental group. 

Investigators with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) pretended to be potential investors in the controversial mining project and recorded their conversations with Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier and Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ronald Thiessen, the group said. 

During those conversations, the executives told the EIA personnel that the mine could be in operation for much longer than the 20 year period they’re currently proposing, with Thiessen saying it could be in operation for 200 years. 

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“During that 20 years, you’re gonna make the application to continue for another 20,” he said. 

“Based on 180,000 short tons a day of processing capacity, and we have 10 million tons, that’s a 180-year mine life, and we know that there’s more ore there, so it’s probably going to be more than 200 years,” Thiessen said later in the video. 

“There’s not a single major mine, and there certainly isn’t a major oilfield, that didn’t start out small, smaller than it has grown. And there have been constant expansions that have been suggested and approved,” Collier was recorded saying. 

“That’s what would happen here. This is a well-worn path that we’re following to build something that allows us to show the community and the state that we can do it, we can do it well, that it’s not dangerous and then we’ll come in at some point in the future and request an extension of the time and probably an expansion of how much we are producing on a daily basis,” he added. 

Last year, Collier testified to Congress that Pebble “has no current plans, in this application or in any other way, for expansion.”

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In one of the tapes, which EIA said were recorded in August and September, Thiessen also discusses eventually ramping up production at the mine in the future. 

“To increase the size of the mill from 160,000 metric tons per day, we can go to 220, we can go to 320,” he noted, saying that some of these things would require additional permitting. 

Pebble spokesperson Mike Heatwole told The Hill in an email that the company isn’t currently planning additional development, but that it could decide to do more development in the future. 

“The Pebble mine development proposal currently being evaluated by the US Army Corps of Engineers provides for 20 years of mining operations and an average mill throughput of 180,000 tons per day,” Heatwole said. 

“At this time, there is no definitive plan for subsequent phases of development, although the Pebble deposit would certainly support a longer mine life,” he added. “What we have said consistently, and is reinforced in the ‘Pebble tapes’ you mention, is the operator of the Pebble mine may decide at some point in the future to propose additional phases of development, but that no such formal plan or intention to do so exists today.”

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Heatwole also noted that future developments would have to go through a “comprehensive, multi-year federal and state permitting process."

The Pebble Mine, located at the world’s largest commercial sockeye salmon-producing region, has emerged as a lightning rod among conservatives after prominent individuals like Donald Trump Jr. and Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonThe Memo: Trump election loss roils right More conservatives break with Trump over election claims Ex-AG Holder urges GOP to speak against Trump efforts to 'subvert' election results MORE came out against it. 

Following this, President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE said he would look at “both sides” of the issue, and even though it had already completed an environmental impact assessment of the mine, the Army Corps. of Engineers decided to require additional steps the companies would need to take in order for the mine to be approved. 

The environmental assessment found that the mine would not impact salmon harvests, reversing an Obama administration determination that it would. It did note that there would be damage to wetlands. 

In the letter following that assessment, the Army Corps said the company would have to take extra steps to mitigate “unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources,” delaying its final decision on the project.

Since then, the president said on Twitter that “there will be NO POLITICS in the Pebble Mine Review Process,” echoing language from a Pebble ad which urged him to “continue to stand tall and don’t let politics enter the Pebble Mine review process.”

In the tapes, the executives expressed confidence about the process, saying that they briefed David Hobbie, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers' Alaska District's Regulatory Division, on the company’s mitigation plan and he said “this satisfied all of the issues we raised in our letter.”