Pebble Mine: Too Much Trick, Too Little Treat

House Committee Issued a Report Detailing How Pebble Mine Proponents “Tried to Trick Regulators” and Asked the Attorney General to Investigate False Statements to Congress

Credit: Robert Glenn Ketchum

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure issued a damning report last week titled “NO CURRENT PLANS…” Pebble LP, Sham Permitting, and False Testimony Threatening the World’s Largest Salmon Habitat. The title says it all, and the report demonstrates—in detail, using Pebble’s own documents and communications—“clear-cut deception from Pebble” in their push to build a giant open-pit gold and copper mine at the headwaters of the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Issued by Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), the committee report made three main findings of fact:

  1. Pebble always intended to build a mine with a lifespan of longer than the 20-year plan detailed in its Clean Water Act permit application.
  2. Former Pebble CEO Tom Collier lied to Congress that Pebble had no intention of expanding the mine beyond 20 years.
  3. Pebble deliberately sought to mislead regulators regarding the mine’s planned scope in order to circumvent the Clean Water Act.

The report detailed how “[t]he Pebble Mine’s backers tried to trick regulators by pretending to pursue a smaller project with the intention of expanding the scope and environmental effects after the project was approved.”

It juxtaposed, on the one hand, then-Pebble CEO Tom Collier’s written statement to Congress that Pebble had “no current plans, in this application or in any other way, for expansion” with, on the other hand, internal company documents obtained by the committee revealing “the company was actively seeking to develop and operate an expanded mine—and touting that larger vision in pitches to potential investors.”

According to the report:
These actions appear to be an attempt to circumvent the goals of the Clean Water Act’s Section 404 permitting process which requires accurate information regarding proposed discharge of fill material to examine potential impacts on aquatic resources and the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the federal government to consider the effects of major decisions on the environment.

The report also recommended reforming the Army Corps and EPA's Clean Water Act 404 permitting process to add scrutiny and ensure holistic review of the true impacts of projects. 

Because “Mr. Collier knew his October 2019 testimony to Congress was false,” Chairs DeFazio and Napolitano also forwarded to Attorney General Merrick Garland the evidence of Collier’s false statements to Congress for further review. 

The report is the latest to note Pebble’s history of duplicity around their true intentions for the Pebble Mine. Undercover videotapes secretly recorded by the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency and released in September 2020 documented the underlying deceit of Pebble’s application for a 20-year mine permit when, in fact, as the tapes confirmed through the words of former Pebble CEO Collier and Northern Dynasty CEO Ronald Thiessen, Pebble’s true intention is for a mine plan of 180 to 200 years.

Pebble’s 20-year mine plan has never made economic sense.

Former Head of Environment for Rio Tinto’s Copper, Copper & Diamonds and Copper & Coal Product Groups Richard Borden evaluated the economic feasibility of that plan and described the Pebble project as “an extremely large and risky capital investment.” Borden found that the mine plan as proposed in the EIS “will make roughly 15 billion dollars less profit from the sale of concentrate than the smallest 2011 mine scenario and is likely to have a strongly negative net present value (NPV)” of $3 billion.

To make the mine profitable, Borden concluded, it must expand. Yet Collier testified to Congress that Pebble has “no current plans, in this application or in any other way, for expansion.”

Lying to Congress is a federal offense. And it gives EPA one more reason to issue a Final Determination under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to permanently protect Bristol Bay from future lies, shams, and false promises.

Bristol Bay wild salmon support a $2.2 billion annual commercial fishery, 15,000 jobs, and Alaska Native communities. Remarkably, this single fishery supplies over 50 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon. There remains overwhelming local and national opposition to the mine and support for EPA 404(c) action.

EPA can stop the Pebble Mine once and for all, and we continue to urge the agency to finalize strong, durable, and comprehensive 404(c) protections for Bristol Bay by the end of 2022.

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