US Army Corps of Engineers Finalizes Administrative Record For Pebble Project Appeal
VANCOUVER - Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. reported that the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has completed the ‘administrative record' (AR) that will serve as the basis for its official review of the negative Record of Decision (ROD) issued for Alaska's Pebble Project last fall. The USACE completed the AR and provided a copy to Northern Dynasty's 100%-owned, U.S.-based subsidiary Pebble Limited Partnership ("Pebble Partnership") last week. The Pebble Partnership and its legal counsel are currently reviewing the voluminous record for completeness and relevance to the USACE's permitting decision, and its sufficiency to support a fair, transparent and efficient review.
President & CEO, Ron Thiessen, said, “While we have been and continue to be very concerned about the USACE's schedule and timeline for advancing our administrative appeal of the Pebble permitting decision, we are pleased to pass this important milestone and look forward to completing our review of the AR.
Pebble is a high-profile project with significant public and stakeholder interest, and great import to the Alaska and U.S. economy. Accordingly, we fully expect the administrative record and the review process it supports to be robust, objective and fact-based, and to achieve the principles of regulatory fairness the USACE is sworn to uphold."
The Pebble Partnership also recently learned the USACE is naming a new Review Officer ("RO") to lead the Pebble Project appeal. Once in place, the Company expects the new RO to set a detailed timeline for the administrative appeal process, including scheduling a potential site visit and appeal conference.
"There are guidelines in federal regulation governing these appeals that suggest they should be completed within 90 days - noting the Pebble Project appeal has already passed the 90-day mark. But we've advised our investors and project stakeholders, consistent with prior comments made by the USACE, that 90 days is probably not a realistic timeline for our appeal given the significance of the Pebble Project, and our expectation that the USACE's review is thorough and complete. That said, we believe this project has been subject to inappropriate political interference in the past, so we will be extremely vigilant to prevent such forces from affecting the appeal process in any way - even through delay."
There are several dimensions of the Pebble Partnership's appeal that U.S. and global business interests will be watching closely.
Chief among them is the fact that the Final Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") for the Pebble Project found the proposed mine would: co-exist with healthy fish and wildlife populations in southwest Alaska; have no impact on commercial, subsistence and sport fisheries in Bristol Bay; and, make an important socioeconomic contribution to the State of Alaska. Despite publishing these findings in its July 2020 Final EIS, the USACE issued a ROD in November 2020 based on contradictory findings and diametrically opposed conclusions.
"The fundamental basis of our appeal is a belief that the ROD doesn't square with the EIS," Thiessen said. "If the Final EIS isn't the most comprehensive, relevant and science-based assessment of the Pebble Project, and the foundation upon which all permitting decisions should be made, we want the USACE to tell us what is.
Events of the past several months have thrown even greater doubt on another, already questionable dimension of the USACE's permitting decision - the agency's conclusion that Pebble is not in the public interest. With the Biden Administration's recent pronouncements concerning renewable energy, electric vehicles and other policies designed to achieve carbon-neutrality in the United States by 2050, and governments around the world pursuing similar policies, pundits are predicting unprecedented refined copper shortages in the decades ahead.
"We considered the USACE's findings in its Public Interest Review to be indefensible when they were published last fall. What has been widely acknowledged since that time, and well known within the mining and metals sector for the past several years, is the U.S. must develop its own copper resources if it is to achieve its ambitious goals with respect to climate change. How safely and responsibly developing the world's largest undeveloped copper resource, a project on U.S. soil and designed to U.S. health, safety and environmental standards, NOT be in the public interest?"
Another aspect of the Pebble permitting decision that bears scrutiny relates to compensatory mitigation. Although the USACE's demands for mitigation at Pebble are unprecedented, the Pebble Partnership invested more than $2.5 million and 1000 person-days last year to prepare a Compensatory Mitigation Plan ("CMP") to meet the lead federal regulator's requirements. The Pebble Project CMP would protect almost eight times more wetlands than the proposed mine would affect, but was summarily rejected by the USACE based on largely minor deficiencies, without giving the proponent an opportunity to respond.
"After a tremendous investment of professional time and resources, and ongoing discussions with the regulator about its expectations and demands, we submitted a CMP that demonstrably satisfies the USACE's requirements," Thiessen said. "It was rejected just five days later after what we believe to be a perfunctory review, and one we believe merits further investigation by the RO."