Energy & Environment

Watchdog to weigh probe of Trump administration advancements of Pebble Mine

A Defense Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) watchdog will consider probing the Trump administration’s moves to advance the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska following congressional requests on Monday. 

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) wrote to Defense Department Inspector General Sean O’Donnell, who also serves as an EPA watchdog, and Army Inspector General Leslie Smith asking for an investigation into a recent assessment finding that the proposed mine would not have a significant impact on a nearby salmon fishery. 

They also wrote to O’Donnell at the EPA asking him to look into that agency’s reversal of an Obama administration determination to preemptively veto the Pebble Mine. 

Spokespeople for O’Donnell with both the EPA and the Pentagon confirmed that he would review the requests. 

The Army Corps last month published an environmental impacts assessment of the proposed Alaska copper and gold mine, bringing it one step closer to construction. 

The proposed project is controversial because of its proximity to the Bristol Bay area, the world’s largest commercial sockeye salmon-producing region. 

The Army Corps determined that “there would be no measurable change in the number of returning salmon” and that the project “would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers and result in long-term changes to the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay.”

It did say that the mine will likely impact between 2,226 and 2,261 acres of wetlands and other waters, including between 104.1 and 105.8 miles of streams.

In the Monday letter, the Democratic lawmakers, all of whom serve on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, raised concerns about the timeline and thoroughness of the findings. 

“The Committee is concerned that the Army Corps expedited the Clean Water Act permitting and [National Environmental Policy Act] review process at the expense of a thorough scientific review. 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 lawmakers wrote. 

“Even more concerning is that despite 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,” they added. 

The EPA proposed under the Obama administration to preemptively veto a permit for the mine. The Trump administration reversed that action last year. 

Rouda, Speier and Maloney on Monday asked O’Donnell to look into whether the reversal was supported by scientific findings, whether it was influenced by industry or lobbyists, and whether concerns were raised by agency scientists. 

Mike Heatwole, a spokesperson for the Pebble Limited Partnership, said in an email that the company welcomes a review of a project but also said that it would be “baseless.”

“The review was thorough and transparent,” Heatwole said of the Army Corps assessment. “Moreover, our review was made more efficient because we derisked the project by making it smaller, eliminating waste rock piles, getting rid of cyanide, redesigning the tailings facilities to diminish water storage, and much more.”

Some supporters of the administration, including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., have recently come out against the Pebble Mine, citing concerns about the proximity to Bristol Bay. 

Soon after, the president himself pledged to look at “both sides” of the issue.

Tags Alaska Bristol Bay Carolyn Maloney Donald Trump Donald Trump Jr. Harley Rouda Inspectors general Jackie Speier Pebble Mine

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