The Pebble Partnership and the Environmental Protection Agency have kissed and made up: Pebble will be allowed to enter the permitting process under the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. In return, there will be no lawsuit against the EPA for stalling the project for the past several years.
The copper and gold mining project, which had been prohibited by the Obama-era EPA from even applying for a permit, represents a huge supply of ore on state land in Western Alaska — land that was long ago set aside for mining.
It has been a controversial project because opponents say it could endanger a rich salmon fishery in Bristol Bay.
Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Partnership, said the project is now smaller than previously planned and would have demonstrable environmental protections, including protecting the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed. But the company is not ready to release details on the meaning of “smaller.” That information will start coming out in the next eight months, according to Must Read Alaska sources.
Collier described the current EPA management as a different one than existed under President Obama, and said his company was fighting for due process: “That’s all we’ve been asking for all along here,” he told the Associated Press.
“It’s a day for Pebble Mine to really have a new start,” Collier said.
The coming year will be busy as the company defines the project further and makes the case to residents of Alaska about the benefits of jobs and economic growth in a non-oil industry.
But while the worst federal hurdles have been challenging for the company, Pebble must still go through the permitting process, which is daunting. And the company also faces a Walker Administration that has turned cold.
When Bill Walker ran for governor, he was in favor of the Pebble Project when he talked with miners, but he opposed it when he was talking to environmentalists.
Since taking office, he has come under the influence of hard-left Democrats such as Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who opposes the project.
With his re-election campaign now starting to turn its wheels, Walker faces a dilemma: There are a lot of potential votes from Alaskans who want to see the state emerge from its current recession, and who support jobs. The mine would create as many as 1,000 jobs, the company says, many of which would be filled by applicants from poverty-stricken villages in the region.
Many of those economy-jobs voters are unhappy with Walker’s performance, according to a poll released by the Alaska Chamber of Commerce.
On the other hand, Pebble remains the rallying cry of the Left, where Walker now enjoys strong support.
With the 2018 gubernatorial season now starting, the Pebble Project will become a lightning-rod issue for all who seek the state’s highest office.
Bristol Bay could become the next Standing Rock protest with mine opponents camping and standing in the way of bulldozers, and will likely be a strong fund-raising tool for environmental groups. For some opponents, it’s not just that Pebble is Pebble, but that it is the camel’s nose under the tent for the entire region.
Quaterra Resources, Inc. last month signed an agreement with Chuchuna Minerals Co. which gave it the option to buy a 90 percent interest in the Groundhog copper prospect, which is close to the Pebble mine prospect.