The Dunleavy administration will file an administrative appeal to challenge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision denying a key permit for the proposed Pebble copper and gold project in Southwest Alaska.
“The flawed decision by the Alaska District creates a dangerous precedent that will undoubtedly harm Alaska’s future and, any potential project can fall victim to the same questionable standards,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a prepared statement on Friday. “We have to prevent a federal agency, in this instance, the Alaska District of the Army Corps of Engineers, from using the regulatory process to effectively prevent the state from fulfilling a constitutional mandate to develop its natural resources.”
The Corps rejected a permit for the mine in November but left open a path for Pebble to administratively appeal the decision.
Pebble has not yet filed that appeal, said Mike Heatwole, a spokesman with developer Pebble Limited Partnership. It has until Jan. 25, a Corps spokesman said.
The state will ask the Corps’ Pacific Ocean Division to send the decision back to the Alaska District for a “more thorough review consistent with the law,” Alaska acting attorney general Ed Sniffen said.
The division is requiring mitigation measures, steps taken to offset damage to wetlands from the proposed mine, that are simply impossible to meet in Alaska, Sniffen said.
U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have denounced the Pebble project for not meeting required environmental standards, and President-elect Joe Biden has said he’ll move to stop it from ever being developed.
Dunleavy has not expressed a position on the mine but has said he supports a fair permitting process. Critics say he and his administration have taken numerous steps showing that he supports the mine.
If built, the mine would be located about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, near headwaters to the valuable Bristol Bay salmon fishery, generating concern among many Alaskans that development there will threaten the fishery.
As the landowner of the mineral prospect, the state has the right to appeal, said Luciano Vera, a spokesman with the Corps.
Dan Cheyette with the Bristol Bay Native Corp., the Alaska Native regional corporation for the region and a mine opponent, said the state’s decision is another sign the Dunleavy administration is a “cheerleader” for the controversial mine.
The Corps’ decision rejecting the mine does not set a precedent for other Alaska projects, Cheyette said.
“We have always maintained Pebble is unique and different from other projects, given its size and location near one of the world’s greatest sockeye salmon fisheries,” he said. “The Corps got it right in denying the permit, and we believe the appeal process will corroborate that decision.”
Corri Feige, commissioner for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said the decision by the Corps has “far-reaching and ominous implications” for Alaska’s right develop its resources.
“The Alaska Constitution specifically directs us to develop our resources in the public interest. When a federal agency arbitrarily tries to deprive us of our rights with the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen, we simply must challenge that action,” she said in the statement.