Pebble hits back at Biden’s pledge to block Alaska mine

Pebble project site, Alaska. Image from Northern Dynasty.

Northern Dynasty Minerals’ (TSX: NDM) US-based subsidiary Pebble Limited Partnership said on Monday that any action by a future Democratic administration to deny its permits for the Pebble project in Alaska would be promptly overturned, given the favorable findings of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) last month.

In July, Northern Dynasty Minerals cleared the last environmental hurdle for its proposed Pebble copper-gold-molybdenum mine in Alaska, almost two decades after developers first started considering the project.

Northern Dynasty’s statement Monday was issued after Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s vowed on Sunday to stop the proposed copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, should he be elected this fall.

Biden said the Democratic Party could rely on a study completed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Obama administration in 2014, which proposed restricting development in the Bristol Bay region, but never finalized those restrictions.

“It is no place for a mine,” the former vice president said in a statement, Alaska Public Media reported. “The Obama-Biden administration reached that conclusion when we ran a rigorous, science-based process in 2014, and it is still true today.”

If permitted, Pebble would be North America’s largest mining operation with an estimated $400 billion worth of copper, gold and other metals

“The only reason we are still debating whether Pebble mine should move forward is because hours after former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with a mining executive behind closed doors, the Trump administration reversed our thoughtful decision,” Biden said in a Politico report.

Last week, President Donald Trump pledged to hear out “both sides of the issue” after his son Donald Jr. — in a rare instance of public disagreement — tweeted to oppose the project supported by his father’s administration.

According to a study by the Center for Science in Public Participation, the Pebble mine, if permitted, would be North America’s largest mining operation with an estimated $400 billion worth of copper, gold and other metals.

However, the mine would be built near headwaters of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, causing concerns among conservationists and local tribal groups.

Pebble’s defense

Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier maintains that “Pebble will 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, referring to the Final EIS and the federal Record of Decision (ROD) expected within weeks, which he believes will “without any doubt whatsoever” serve as the administrative record for all federal regulatory and permitting decisions at Pebble.

“After 2½ 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,” Collier said.

“It’s election season, and people are going to posture and say things, I totally understand that. 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.”

Tom Collier, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO

In response to Biden and the Democratic administration’s potential challenge, Collier said “no amount of Monday morning quarterbacking is going to change those findings.”

Rule of law

Collier also 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, and any similar action would be met with the same fate.

“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 cautioned that the Democratic administration’s action to challenge federal permits once granted would have “severe negative implications” for the country’s reputation as a jurisdiction for business investment.

Investors willing to commit up to $1 billion or more to develop projects in the US, as Pebble has done, expect federal leaders to abide by the ‘rule of law’, he said.