Aug 24, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Army Corps delays final decision on Alaska's controversial Pebble Mine

drilling rig in the Pebble Mine East site near the village of Iliamna, Alaska. Analysis on core samples drilled from the site show large desposits of copper and gold.

Photo: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Trump administration is delaying a decision on whether to approve a controversial mine in a sensitive Alaskan ecosystem that faces opposition from President Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., and other prominent conservatives.

Why it matters, via Axios' Amy Harder: The situation could allow the president to avoid making a definitive statement before Election Day, temporarily appeasing both sides. It's still bad news for the mine developers given Joe Biden has vowed to block the project should he win.

  • In an Aug. 20 letter, released on Monday and first reported by The Hill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it will not make a decision on a permit for the project until Pebble Limited Partnership, the company behind Pebble Mine, submits a plan to mitigate "unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources," including in nearby wetlands and streams.
  • Pebble Limited Partnership will have 90 days to submit its mitigation plan, meaning a decision on the project's permit may not be made until after November's election.

The big picture: The large gold and copper mine, if approved, would be located at a prominent sockeye salmon fishery in the Bristol Bay area.

  • The project, which was blocked by the Obama administration, has been opposed by environmentalists and fishing industry groups.
  • Conservatives, including Trump Jr. and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, have also expressed opposition.
  • In issuing its final environmental review report last month, the Army Corps said it would make a decision on whether to issue a permit for the project within 30 days. The report found that the project would not lead to "long-term changes in the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay."

The other side: In a statement Monday, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier expressed confidence that the project will move forward.

  • "We believe our final Comprehensive Management Plan submission will be submitted within weeks and will satisfy all of the requirements of the letter,” Collier said.
  • "Anyone suggesting a different opinion—i.e. that Pebble will not be able to comply with the letter or that such compliance will significantly delay issuing a [decision]—must be ignorant of the EXTENSIVE preparation we have undertaken in order to meet the requirements of the letter.”
  • "This is the next step in what has been a comprehensive, exhaustive two-and-a-half-year review of the project. Nothing in the letter is a surprise to us or them,” he added, denying reports that pressure from prominent conservative voices played a role in the Army Corps letter.
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