House Democrats have launched an investigation into the Pebble Project in Alaska, searching for records to determine whether developers of the proposed gold and copper mine have misled Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers about their plans.
In letters to the developers and corps officials, the heads of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure raised concerns that recently released secret video footage showed that the developers had done this downplayed the size and duration of the mine in public, while privately a much larger and longer project is planned.
“It appears that Pebble was looking at two facts: one to attract potential investors to the Pebble Project, and one to address concerns of Alaskan Indians, the US Congress and federal agencies of possible adverse environmental impacts from the mine disperse, “said the chairman of the committee, Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, and a chair of the subcommittee, Grace F. Napolitano, Democrat of California, wrote in one of the letters to John Shively, interim chief executive of the Pebble Limited Partnership .
In the letters sent out on Thursday, the partnership and corps were asked to hand over documents, emails and other records related to the project from 2017 onwards and set a deadline of December 10.
The Pebble Project spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a statement Friday, Representative DeFazio said the committee is asking the record “to get a fuller and more accurate account of Pebble’s intentions.”
“I’ve been saying all along that the Pebble Mine is a bad project that was made worse by a sham process,” he said.
The Pebble Mine, located in a remote part of southwest Alaska and one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, has been fought over for years. Mining and many Alaskan officials are advocating it for its potential economic benefits, while environmentalists and local groups oppose environmental damage from the billion dollar project, including the potential impact on wild salmon fisheries in nearby Bristol Bay.
The corps, which has declared after an environmental review that the mine would not cause long-term damage to fish populations, is preparing to take a decision to grant a permit under the federal clean water law. This would allow the project to continue, although it would be at least a few more years before construction could begin.
Separately this week, as part of the permitting process, Pebble Partnership’s parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, announced that the partnership had presented the Corps with a new plan to mitigate the environmental damage caused by the mine. The corps said in August that the partnership’s original plan was inadequate and applied for a new one by Nov. 18 that would reserve land near the mine for permanent protection.
The company, which presented its new plan on Nov. 16, said it would not provide details of the plan until it was accepted and published by the corps.
The corps did not offer a schedule for this, so the plan will remain private for the time being, which prompted criticism from environmental and nature conservation groups.
“It is noteworthy that the Army Corps would say in August that this mitigation plan is essential to the ability of this project to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act, and today with this key piece, those most affected are refusing it to be seen, “said Brian Litmans, legal director of Trustees for Alaska, a nonprofit environmental law firm, in a statement.
Once the plan is complete, a decision on approval could be made relatively soon. An Alaska corps spokesman, John Budnik, said he had no “time frame to share when that will be”.
Like another project under consideration by the Trump administration raising environmental concerns – a plan to sell oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – If the mine is to move forward, it will most likely have to be approved before the new administration takes power in January.
The investigation into the house arises from the September release of Video recordings of remote meetings between two executives behind the project and representatives from the Environmental Investigation Agency, a private advocacy group posing as potential investors.
During these meetings, the two executives – Tom Collier, then managing director of the partnership, and Ronald W. Thiessen, managing director of Northern Dynasty Minerals – described a project that would do this eventually be much bigger than the one proposed to the corps.
The proposal envisages a mine that will produce 160,000 tons of gold and other mineral concentrates per day and operate for 20 years. In a statement to the House Committee in 2019, Mr. Collier described the project in the same terms and said there are no current plans “in this application or otherwise” for expansion.
In the videos, however, the two men said the mine could operate for 180 years and that output could double after the first two decades. “If you have something like this in production, why would you want to quit?” Mr. Thiessen said in one of the recordings.
“It is impossible to conclude that both statements were correct because they were so completely inconsistent,” wrote Representative DeFazio and Representative Napolitano to Mr. Shively.
Collier, who also made negative comments on Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and other Alaskan politicians, resigned shortly after the footage was released.
In the letters, the representatives pointed out that there could be legal consequences if it was established that the company had concealed facts or provided false information in its application to the corps, or if Mr Collier did so on his testimonial.
Any results of the survey may also prove useful in future mine obstruction efforts, if the permit is approved.