The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said on Monday that its 2020 decision rejecting approval of the controversial Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska was not properly completed and needs further review in some areas.
The 81-page decision favors mine developer Pebble Limited Partnership, which had appealed the permit denial.
But the giant copper and gold prospect faces other major hurdles. In January, the Environmental Protection Agency said it was blocking the mine using a rarely employed power under the Clean Water Act. That so-called preemptive veto would trump any final decision from the Corps.
The Pebble deposit is located on state land about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, in the Bristol Bay region. Opponents say the plans for a large open-pit mine will destroy fisheries worth about $2 billion annually. Pebbled Limited has argued that the deposit, containing minerals worth hundreds of billions of dollars, can be developed safely.
John Shively, chief executive of Pebble, said in a statement this week that he was encouraged by the Corps’ decision to conduct further analysis.
“The (Corps) has recognized that the final decision process for Pebble was not properly undertaken and sent its decision document back to the Alaska District following our appeal over two years ago,” he said.
“Our technical and permitting team will now spend some time looking through all the material released today as there is a fair amount to digest,” he said.
Shively also said Pebble, which has warned it might take legal action against the EPA veto, is weighing its options for advancing the project.
“We have several issues in motion around the project and a key current focus for us right now is what next steps we will be taking regarding the EPA’s preemptive veto of the project,” he said.
The Corps’ Alaska District had determined in 2020 that the controversial project was not in the public’s interest, leading to Pebble’s administrative appeal within the Corps.
The Corps’ Pacific Ocean Division, which includes the Alaska District, said in its report on Monday that the permit denial by the Alaska District was flawed in some areas, including in factors related to whether the project is in the public’s interest, or not.
Monday’s decision, signed by Pacific commander Kirk Gibbs, says that “portions of this appeal by Pebble have merit” and “the permit decision is being remanded to the Alaska District Engineer for further analysis and documentation.”
Gibbs wrote that the final Corps’ decision on the project’s permit application will be made within the Alaska District.
Dan Cheyette, senior vice president of lands and resources at mine opponent Bristol Bay Native Corp., said Pebble’s mine plan can’t be permitted as long as the EPA decision stands.
“We always have been and we remain today optimistic that this project will not go forward,” he said.
But he acknowledged that the decadeslong fight over Pebble has come with many surprises. He said the opposition that includes conservation groups, fishing interests and many Alaska Native organizations will continue to be involved at every level to fight the mine.
“Our coalition remains intact and strong, and the opposition to this project by Alaskans remains strong,” he said.