Congressional report calls for crackdown on sham permitting

Spokesman for Canadian-owned mine prospect says they have been clear on issues

Chairpersons for congressional committees whose report contends that the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) used “bait and switch” tactics have asked two federal agencies to revise their guidelines to prevent future attempts to undermine the federal permitting process.

A spokesperson for PLP meanwhile says that suggestions in the report that PLP mislead regulators in any way are categorically wrong.

The report released in late October by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, D-Calif, chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, urges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revise their regulations and guidelines to clamp down on sham permitting and project segmentation.

DeFazio and Napolitano said they sent evidence of false statements made by PLP to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Their report used internal documents from the PLP to show a sham permitting scheme designed to evade regulations and develop an open pit mine abutting the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon. DeFazio and Napolitano said they found that the PLP intended to build a mine with a lifespan of over 20 years, that former PLP chief executive officer Tom Collier lied to Congress, saying that Pebble had no intention of expanding the mine beyond 20 years and that the PLP deliberately sought to mislead regulators about the mine’s planned scope to circumvent the Clean Water Act.

“This report exposes in damning detail how Pebble LP tried to use a ‘bait and switch’ sham permitting scheme to sneak an environmentally disastrous pit mine project past Congress, regulators, and the Native Alaskans whose ancestral land and way of life would be devastated by their greed,” DeFazio said. “Pebble LP’s CEO Tom Collier was lying in his statement to our subcommittee concerning the scope and scale of the project, as evidenced by contradictory leaked audiotapes, said Napolitano. “The truth is, the Pebble LP executives deliberately sought to mislead regulators in order to avoid more robust environmental public review processes. This conduct is shameful and likely criminal.”

Mike Heatwole, a PLP spokesperson, said in a statement that PLP has been forthright and clear in all of its public communications and with regulators that Pebble would need to be permitted in phases. Heatwole said that the PLP had been equally clear with stakeholders that their plan was to construct and operate an initial mine at Pebble for two decades, and that the initial plan did not mine the entire resource, and they would like to consider expansion at a future date.


The PLP had no formal specific plans for additional mining at Pebble, nor could they, given the contingencies associated with the initial phase submitted for permitting, he said. “We have been upfront that the resource and opportunity at Pebble are significant and that any future opportunity would require another comprehensive permitting process,” he said.

Among those weighing in on the congressional report was Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, who said she was not surprised by the report. The PLP “has proven time and again they’re not to be trusted,” Hurley said. “We are still reviewing the report and its appendices that uncover the new depths of Pebbles deceptions, but this depravity comes as no surprise to us.”

“Since this company started trying to build a mine at the headwaters of our fishery two decades ago, they have done nothing but prove they will say and do anything to try and advance their toxic project, regardless of truth and fact,” Hurley added.

DeFazio and Napolitano made several recommendations to the EPA and USACE, including continuing to exercise active congressional oversight and other congressional authority over the proposed mine and to explore legislative protections for the Bristol Bay watershed beyond section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act.  That section establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill materials into federal lands, including wetlands.

Documents included in the lengthy congressional report include letters from DeFazio and Napolitano

expressing concern over statements made by top Pebble officials in candid recordings which directly contradicted information presented to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as testimony by the former CEO, Tom Collier, to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. 

“Pebble appears to have shuffled its deck of facts depending on the players at the table,” DeFazio and Napolitano said.