Pebble Mine Project funds could be sidelined after amendment introduced

A field camp at the Pebble deposit. KTUU photo.
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - An amendment to a federal spending bill would halt progress on the Pebble Project permitting process.

California Democrat Rep. Jared Huffman’s appropriations amendment basically says none of the funds in HR 2740 can be used for the Army Corps of Engineering to finalize the environmental impact statement for the proposed Pebble Mine Project.

The Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with creating an environmental impact statement before deciding whether or not to issue permits for the project under the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act.

The Corps says the permitting process for the Pebble Project is approximately halfway through and it hopes to have a final decision in about a year.

"If that passed in legislation and was signed off into law, we'd abide by that, which means the Corps of Engineers cannot expend any funds to work on that," said Dave Hobbie, chief of the USACE Alaska District Regulatory Division.

A spokesperson for the Pebble Partnership says the representative's steps circumvent the regulatory process:

"It is inappropriate for a congressman from California to attempt to tell Alaskans how to make decisions about development on State of Alaska land. The National Environmental Policy Act has been agreed upon and established process for evaluating projects for decades. Even the Natural Resources Defense Council - where Rep. Hoffman used to work - hails NEPA as the Magna Carta of environmental law," spokesperson Mike Heatwole wrote. "Just because Rep. Hoffman does not like the outcome of the draft EIS for Pebble does not mean he should inappropriately attempt to alter the outcome. It is bad policy, it should be rejected and the representative should focus on California issues and let Alaskans decide what's best for Alaska."

In addition to the open-pit copper and gold mine, the project includes transportation corridors, a port to transfer materials and a natural gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula to the mine site.

The USACE released the Draft EIS for the Pebble Project in February. Critics argue its scope is insufficient.

“The Army Corps of Engineers needs to do better when the stakes in Bristol Bay are this high. The Pebble Partnership’s permit application is incomplete and deceptive," wrote Nelli Williams, the Alaska director for Trout Unlimited. "They have not submitted an economic feasibility study like they promised and have considered only a fraction of the reasonably foreseeable impacts to the area. For a region as unique as Bristol Bay, both the Army Corps of Engineers and Pebble must be held accountable to meet a high bar. Since they are not meeting this bar, the process should be stopped,” she continued.

The public comment period for Pebble Project draft EIS is open through July 1.

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