House Committee Announces Investigation Request Of Pebble EIS

The Pebble Mine news cycle is in full swing these days. The latest nugget comes from straight from Washington D.C. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform have requested an investigation the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controversial Environmental Impact Statement. Here’s the statement from the committee:

Washington, D.C. (Aug. 10, 2020)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Rep. Harley Rouda, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, and Committee Member Rep. Jackie Speier, sent a letterto the Inspectors General at the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army requesting an investigation into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (Army Corps) environmental review of the Pebble Limited Partnership’s dredge-and-fill permit application under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the proposed Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay, Alaska. 

“The Committee is concerned that the Army Corps expedited the Clean Water Act permitting and NEPA review process at the expense of a thorough scientific review,” the Members wrote.  “It appears that this timeline is inappropriate for a hardrock mine of this scale, complexity, and potential regional and state environmental, social, and economic impacts—especially during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

The full development of the Pebble Partnership’s proposed gold and copper mine in Alaska would be the largest in North America.   A broad coalition of groups and individuals oppose the mine because of the environmental damage it would cause and in July 2014, after three years of study, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 issued a Proposed Determination, which found serious negative environmental consequences of mining copper and gold in Bristol Bay, Alaska.  Last week, Donald Trump, Jr. also tweeted his opposition to the mine stating that the “headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chances with.”

“[D]espite repeated pleas and requests from federal, state, local, and tribal cooperating agencies and stakeholders for a more comprehensive review process, it appears that the Army Corps set aside thorough scientific review in favor of an expedited permitting timeline,” the Members wrote. 

On December 22, 2017, the Pebble Limited Partnership submitted an application to the Army Corps for authorization under the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the River and Harbors Act.   This application failed to include essential information regarding mine construction, operation, maintenance, and closure plans necessary to adequately develop an EIS under NEPA or conduct review under the Clean Water Act.  

On January 5, 2018—only eight business days after receiving the application – the Army Corps posted a public notice that the application had been received, thus signaling that the application was deemed complete.   

In 2019, the EPA abruptly dropped its opposition to the mine in order to allow the project to enter the NEPA permitting process.  This reversal appears to have been motivated by political influence and not by scientific analysis; it has been reported that EPA staff disclosed that this decision was made at EPA on June 27, 2019, a day after the President met with Alaska’s Governor Mike Dulvaney on Air Force One, which raises questions about whether EPA’s decision to withdraw the Proposed Determination was arbitrary and capricious.  

The Members also sent a letter to EPA Inspector General Sean O’Donnell requesting an investigation into the reversal of its Proposed Determination under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to “restrict the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed for disposal of dredged or fill material associated with mining the Pebble deposit, a large ore body in southwest Alaska.”  

Click here to read today’s letter to the Department of Defense and U.S. Army.

Click here to read today’s letter to the EPA.

United Tribes of Bristol Bay applauded the decision. Here’s the UTBB reaction:

Dillingham, AK – Today the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a letter to the Department of Defense’s Inspector General requesting an investigation of the Pebble Mine permitting process. The letter outlined serious concerns with the unprecedented timeline, disregard for scientific scrutiny of the assessment, and the millions spent by the Pebble Limited Partnership on lobbyists in D.C. to influence the agency’s conduct within the process.  

Statement from Alannah Hurley, Executive Director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay:
“Our Tribes applaud the House Oversight and Reform Committee for its critical call for investigations. We believe the Pebble Mine’s rushed and inadequate NEPA permitting process is the direct result of the millions spent by the Company lobbying to influence the Army Corps. The result was an unprecedented rushed timeline that resulted in one of the most inadequate environmental assessments ever written. Our tribes experienced firsthand the blatant disregard for science and integrity within this process. From the start, the Corps worked closely with Pebble to silence the voices of the other cooperating agencies, tribes, and fishermen fighting to ensure our way of life and thousands of sustainable American jobs are protected. We urge the Inspector General to launch this critical investigation as soon as possible, and we are confident it will reveal the truth: Pebble’s NEPA process was broken from the start and failed to protect the national treasure that is Bristol Bay.” 

###United Tribes of Bristol Bay is a tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments (that represent over 80 percent of the region’s total population) working to protect the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq way of life in Bristol Bay.