Congress seeks answers on Alaska mine project


Democrats in the House of Representatives have opened an investigation into Project Pebble in Alaska, seeking records to determine whether the proponents of the proposed gold and copper mine misled Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers about their plans .

In letters to developers and officials of the corps, leaders of the House Transport and Infrastructure Committee expressed concerns that recently released secret video recordings showed the developers had downplayed the size and duration. mine in public, while privately planning a longer project.

“It appears that Pebble was dealing with two sets of facts: one to attract potential investors to the Pebble project, and the other to alleviate fears of Alaskan natives, the US Congress, and federal agencies about environmental impacts. potential negatives of the mine, ”committee chairman Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, and subcommittee chairwoman Grace F. Napolitano, Democrat of California, wrote in one of the letters sent to John Shively, Acting Managing Director of Pebble Limited Partnership.

The letters, sent on Thursday, asked the partnership and the corps to hand over documents, emails and other documents related to the project starting in 2017 and set a deadline of December 10.

Project Pebble press officers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In a statement issued Friday, representative DeFazio said the committee is asking that the minutes “get a fuller and more accurate account of Pebble’s intent.”

“I’ve always said Pebble Mine is a bad project that was made even worse by a dummy process,” he said.

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The Pebble mine, which is said to be located in a remote part of southwestern Alaska and is said to be one of the largest surface mines in the world, has been the subject of battle for years. Alaska’s mining industry and many officials favor it for its potential economic benefits, while environmentalists and Indigenous groups are opposed, concerned about the environmental damage caused by the multibillion-dollar project, including the effects potential on wild salmon fishing in nearby Bristol Bay.

The body, having said after an environmental review that the mine will not cause long-term harm to fish populations, is preparing to decide whether or not to grant a permit under the federal Clean Water Act . This would allow the project to move forward, although it would take several more years, at least, before construction could begin.

Separately this week, as part of the permitting process, the Pebble Partnership’s parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, announced that the partnership has submitted a new plan to the corps to mitigate environmental damage from the mine. The corps said in August that the partnership’s initial plan was insufficient and requested a new one by November 18 that would set aside land near the mine for permanent protection.

The company, which submitted its new plan on Nov. 16, said it would not provide any details about the plan until it was accepted and displayed by the body.

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The body has not offered a timeline for doing so, so for now the plan remains private, which immediately drew criticism from environmental and conservation groups.

“It is remarkable that the Corps said in August that this mitigation plan is essential to the ability of this project to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act, then today, with this turnkey element, refuses to let those who would be most affected see it. Brian Litmans, general counsel of trustees for Alaska, a nonprofit environmental law firm, said in a statement.

Once the plan is completed, a permit decision could come relatively soon. Body spokesperson in Alaska, John Budnik, said he did not have “a timeline to share as to when that will be.”

Like another project being considered by the Trump administration that has raised environmental concerns – a plan to sell oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – if the mine is to go ahead, it most likely needs to be approved before that the new administration take over. in January.

The House investigation stems from the publication in September of video recordings of remote meetings between two executives behind the project and representatives of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a private advocacy group, who posed as investors potentials.

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 ultimately be much larger than the one proposed to the corps. .

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The proposal calls for a mine that would produce 160,000 metric tonnes of gold and other mineral concentrates per day and operate for 20 years. During testimony before the House committee in 2019, Mr Collier described the project in the same terms and said there were no current plans “in this application or in any other way” for expansion.

But in the videos, the pair said the mine could operate for 180 years and that after the first two decades production could double. “Once you have something like this in production, why would you want to stop?” Mr Thiessen said in one of the tapes.

“It is impossible to conclude that the two sets of statements were correct, as they were totally contradictory,” Rep. DeFazio and Rep. Napolitano wrote to Mr. Shively.

Mr Collier, who also commented negatively on Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and other Alaskan politicians, resigned shortly after the tapes were released.

In the letters, the representatives pointed out that there could be legal consequences if it was established that the company was concealing facts or making false statements in its request to the body, or if Mr. Collier did the same in his testimony. .

Any findings from the investigation may also prove useful in future efforts to block the mine if the permit is approved.


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