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:
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.
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.
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.
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.