Pebble making headway in EPA fight, and reconsidering size, scope of mine, says CEO

Nov 23, 2015

Tom Collier addressed the annual Alaska Resources Conference last week in Anchorage.

KDLG audio transcript:  The head of the Pebble Partnership spoke about the company’s fight with the EPA and some possible changes to the scope and scale of the controversial mining project at the 36th annual Alaska Resources Conference last week in Anchorage.    

CEO Tom Collier laid out some of Pebble’s complaints against EPA’s actions, which may eventually block development of the mine through preemptive dredge and fill restrictions. But he also told the friendly audience that while the fight is far from over, the company believes it is getting closer to winning it:

We’ve had a federal judge issue an injunction against EPA taking final action at least until the court gets to hear the case. We’ve got an Inspector General that’s looking at a report, been investigating for over a year with five investigators the misconduct at EPA. We’ve got this Cohen report, 350 pages that documents EPA’s misconduct with respect to Pebble. We’ve had hearings in the House Science Committee, we’ve got a report out of the House Oversight Committee, we’re expecting some action on the Senate side.

Collier said the next couple of months will be “critical” for their fight with EPA and whether or not the project will move forward. He also said this interim period over the last few years has given the company time to weigh the heavy criticism and reconsider the project’s scope:

If we get through this battle with EPA and get the chance to go into permitting, we want to have a dialogue about some of the things that have been raised by those that’ve objected to the project. And first among them is size. We think it’s time to talk about whether this project should be as big a project as we talked about in the past, or should be smaller. Maybe that’s a better way to start something like Pebble.

Collier told the audience he looks forward to advancing the conversation with local stakeholders. He referenced what he said were plans for regional involvement, including  “lots” of local-hire, full time jobs averaging six figure salaries, and contracts for village corporations and others for the “billions of dollars of work” on the Pebble project. He also mentioned another of Pebble’s oft-promised benefits:

“We’re going to bring power to the region, to Southwest rural Alaska. Electricity. That’s a game changer, that’s a huge game changer that this project provides, and we need to talk about how that’s going to happen.”

Collier said Pebble believes it has answers to concerns about tailings facilities and the mine’s potential threat to the Bristol Bay fishery, but offered little detail.

Tom Collier, a former chief of staff at the Interior Department under Clinton, was hired in February 2014 to replace John Shively as Pebble's CEO. Shively remains the chair of Pebble's board of directors. Pebble lost the financial partner Anglo American in 2013, and has had a difficult time securing new investment with the EPA's intent to block development.

If developed, Pebble will likely be one of the largest copper and gold mines in the world. The deposit contains an estimated 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum, and 107.4 million ounces of gold. Its many critics charge the mine will pose a significant threat to the currently intact ecosystem of the Bristol Bay watershed, and the EPA has proposed restrictions through the Clean Water Act that will block its development. Critics also say if Pebble is permitted, it is likely much of the area north of Iliamna will eventually turn into a large mining district.