October 28, 2022

Chairs DeFazio and Napolitano Release Committee Report on Pebble Mine—Ask the AG to Investigate False Statements to Congress

Report uses internal company documents and communications to demonstrate clear-cut deception from Pebble LP in their push to build an open pit mine in the world’s largest salmon habitat at Bristol Bay 

The Chairs will also ask EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to revise their regulations and guidelines to crack down on sham permitting and project segmentation

Washington, D.C.—Today, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA) released a committee report titled, "NO CURRENT PLANS…" Pebble LP, Sham Permitting, and False Testimony Threatening the World's Largest Salmon Habitat, and announced they sent evidence of false statements to the U.S. Attorney General’s office based on the report’s findings.  

The report used internal documents from Pebble Limited Partnership (LP) to demonstrate a sham permitting scheme designed to evade regulations and develop an open pit mine in the pristine watershed of Bristol Bay, Alaska. The committee’s investigation uncovered the following findings: Pebble LP intended to build a mine with a lifespan of longer than 20 years; Former Pebble LP CEO Tom Collier lied to Congress that Pebble LP had no intention of expanding the mine beyond 20 years; and Pebble LP deliberately sought to mislead regulators regarding 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,” Chair DeFazio said. “Pebble LP’s chief executive at the time asserted before our committee that he had ‘no current plans’ to extend the life of the 20-year mine project for which they were seeking approval. The report we are releasing today exposes that claim as a shameless lie using Pebble LP’s own internal communications and investor slide decks. As a result, we are forwarding the evidence of Tom Collier’s false statements to Congress to the Attorney General’s office for further review.” 

“This is precisely why thorough environmental study and review cannot be brushed aside—not for the sake of expediency, undue pressure from an administration, nor any other reason. The report confirms that Pebble LP 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. 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. I thank Chair DeFazio for his partnership in compiling this critical report to hold Pebble LP to account and help prevent irreversible disaster at Bristol Bay,” Chair Grace F. Napolitano said.                                                                                                                      

The report recommends that Congress prevent such future attempts to undermine the federal permitting process by: 

  1. Ensuring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and other federal agencies have the authority, training, personnel, and resources for consistent and rigorous oversight throughout the permitting and environmental review process. The Pebble project demonstrates that federal permitting cannot simply be a routinized, unresponsive paperwork march. Regulators must be unflagging and proactive in recognizing and coordinating the necessary expertise—from Tribal, state, federal or non-governmental organizations—to vigorously identify and explore the risks of harms to the public and claims made by actors requesting federal action. 
  2. Reforming the Corps and Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) project review processes to add scrutiny and ensure holistic review of cumulative impacts of projects. The Pebble Mine’s backers tried to trick regulators by pretending to pursue a smaller project with the intention of expanding the scope and environmental effects after the project was approved. The Corps and EPA need tools to spot similar conduct in the future. The Corps’ permit application form should be updated to include questions about the envisioned full scope of a project and any anticipated additional permitting. The agencies should routinely use analytical methods like economic feasibility analysis, evaluate evidence of bad faith action by permit requestors, and coordinate fully with all state and federal authorities. 
  3. Continuing to exercise active Congressional oversight as well as other Congressional authorities, especially where damage to irreplaceable ecosystems and national assets are at issue. Oversight authority held by Congressional leaders brings attention to an issue and increases public scrutiny on controversial matters. Moreover, Congressional authority to impose accountability on those who fail to cooperate fully and transparently with Congress should be vigorously guarded to ensure continued effectiveness of legislative and regulatory oversight.  
  4. Exploring legislative protections for the Bristol Bay watershed beyond the 404(c) Clean Water Act actions currently under review with the EPA. As shown by the Pebble Mine project process, while timely action by administrative agencies is essential, it can also be insufficient to fully protect the irreplaceable wonders of the nation like the Bristol Bay watershed. State or federal legislative protections could ensure that the grandeur, way of life, and abundance of the Bristol Bay region is preserved for generations to come.  

 

The Chairs will also urge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to strengthen the regulations and guidelines that govern the federal permit process to prohibit the kind of sham permitting and project segmentation the committee’s report lays out.

To view the report and appendix 1, click here. To view appendix 2, click here.  

Timeline of T&I Actions on Pebble Mine: 

In October 2022, Chairs DeFazio and Napolitano issued a committee report detailing Pebble LP’s sham permitting scheme designed to evade the critical protections of the Clean Water Act. The report was based on internal communications and documents including investor slide decks that lay out the “bait and switch” scheme undertaken by Pebble LP. To read the committee report, click here.

In October 2022, Chairs DeFazio and Napolitano forwarded the evidence of Tom Collier’s false statements to Congress to the Attorney General’s office. To read the letter to the AG, click here

In November 2020, Chairs DeFazio and Napolitano sent letters to Pebble LP and the Corps requesting records about the proposed Pebble Mine project after secret recordings of Pebble LP’s senior leaders—known as the “Pebble Tapes”—were released that suggested Congress, the Corps, and the public may have been misled about Pebble LP’s planned scale, scope, and duration of the mine. To read these records requests, click here.

Days after the request was made, the Corps announced its decision on the Pebble Mine project, denying the permit. To read statements from the Chairs on this announcement, click here

In September 2020, Chair DeFazio and Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) led a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler urging him to use his authority to veto the flawed Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Pebble Mine on the grounds that the project would have significant negative impacts on Bristol Bay, Alaska. To read the full letter, click here.

In August 2020, Chair DeFazio issued a statement committing to continued oversight of the Pebble Mine project after the Corps sent a letter to Pebble LP requesting additional scrutiny of the project. To read his full statement, click here.

In July 2020, when the Corps released its final EIS regarding the Pebble Mine project, Chairs DeFazio and Napolitano decried the Trump administration’s push to approve the project. To read their full statements, click here.

In June 2020, Chair DeFazio sent a letter to Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite of the Army Corps to push for additional consultation before the Army Corps finalized the EIS as it relates to the Pebble Mine project, due to concerns raised by local tribes and communities. To read the full letter, click here.

In November 2019, Chair DeFazio sent a letter to Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite of the Army Corps expressing his concerns with the Corps’ review of the Clean Water Act permit for the development of an open pit mine to be constructed in the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska. Chair DeFazio urged the Army Corps to immediately prepare a revised EIS to address shortfalls contained in the earlier EIS. To read the full letter, click here

In October 2019, the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing titled “The Pebble Mine Project: Process and Potential Impacts.” To hear from those who testified before the committee, and who are directly affected by this proposed plan, click here.

In July 2018, Ranking Member DeFazio and Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) sent a letter requesting an update on EPA’s environmental review of the proposed Pebble Mine project in Alaska. To read that letter, click here.

 

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