Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier has responded to Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s statement that he would use a study completed by the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2014 to deny federal permits for the Alaska mine.
Collier said on Monday that any action by a Democratic administration to challenge Pebble’s federal permits once granted would have negative implications for the US’ reputation as a jurisdiction for business investment, even if such an action was subsequently overturned by the courts.
Rather than suggesting a willingness to overturn duly permitted and authorised projects, Collier said candidate Biden would be well served to tell Americans how the US can develop domestic sources of copper and other strategic minerals necessary to transition to a lower carbon future.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) last month released a final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Pebble project and the federal record of decision (RoD) is expected within weeks.
Last week, President Donald Trump said that he would "listen to both sides" of the issue concerning the project.His son, Donald Trump Jr took to Twitter to oppose the mining project, arguing that the nearby Bristol Bay and surrounding fishery were“too unique and fragile to take any chances with".
“It’s election season, and people are going to posture and say things, I totally understand that,” Collier said on Monday. “But when it comes down to brass tacks, to the law, there can be no federal action at Pebble that is inconsistent with the final EIS, period.”
Collier pointed out that prior efforts by the Obama administration to impose regulatory decisions at Pebble in the absence of an EIS or other legally defensible administrative record were stopped by the courts. He said any similar action by a future Democratic administration would likely be overturned – particularly given the favourable findings of the Pebble EIS.
“Look, any suggestion that the Obama-era Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA) is a more defensible administrative record for regulatory decision-making at Pebble than the final EIS is laughable,” he said.
“Not only does the BBWA not even assess our project, it doesn’t consider project-specific mitigation, it’s based almost entirely on secondary research, and it isn’t an impact assessment. As a basis for regulatory decision-making, the BBWA is woefully inadequate and demonstrably inferior to the final EIS, and I’m 100% certain that our federal courts will take the same view if they are asked.”
Collier stressed the final EIS demonstrated that Pebble would have no measurable impact on Bristol Bay salmon or other fish populations, nor on the commercial, subsistence and sport fisheries they support.
“The science is in,” he said. “After two-and-a-half years of study by the USACE, the US EPA and nine other federal, state and local regulatory agencies, it has been determined the Pebble project will fully co-exist with clean water and healthy fish and wildlife populations in Bristol Bay. No amount of Monday morning quarterbacking is going to change those findings.”
With the Final EIS complete and a RoD pending, Collier said the window for federal decision-making at Pebble was closing. It will be up to the state administration and regulatory agencies to make final permitting decisions.
“This project is on state lands acquired specifically for the purpose of mineral development,” Collier said. “For any federal administration to appropriate such lands after the fact is prohibited by the US Constitution, not to mention a gross violation of state rights.”