Pebble Watch Fact-check

Understanding the process for permitting a large-scale mine in Bristol Bay does not lend easily to sound-bites. When journalists oversimplify, it can lead to articles that skew the facts or get them entirely wrong. Here’s an example from Fox Business News that we fact-checked.

What the article said:

“A controversial plan to build a mine on top of a copper and gold deposit outside of Bristol Bay, Alaska was rejected outright by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, despite refusing to allow the company, Pebble Partnership, to submit an initial environmental impact statement.

Why it’s wrong:

Almost every part of this statement is incorrect and shows a lack of understanding about the history of this project and of the basics of the permitting process.

• Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) has never released a plan for developing the deposit, so it could not be “rejected outright.” The EPA’s proposed restrictions also did not bar development outright. They did require any mine plan to limit the loss or alteration of salmon-bearing streams and loss of wetlands, lakes and ponds.

• The EPA process to restrict certain large-scale mining activities was never finalized. During the process, PLP could have submitted a permit application at any time.

• Developers do not “submit an initial environmental impact statement.” Developers submit a detailed mine plan as part of a permitting application. In the case of the Pebble mine, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be the lead agency for permitting, and would be responsible for preparing an Environmental Impact Statement.

What the article said:

“But in May, under the Trump administration, new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt met with the CEO of the company, Tom Collier, to strike a deal: It would begin to roll back restrictions on large-scale mining in Alaska, which is located near a major salmon fishery. Environmentalists, and a CNN report released in mid-October, criticized the EPA for allowing that de-regulation to begin, implying that it could destroy Bristol Bay — a criticism that Collier said is markedly untrue.”

Why it’s wrong:

While this paragraph is more factually correct than the last, the word choice is poor.

• EPA’s proposed restrictions, which were developed as part of a public process, were never finalized, so cannot be “rolled back.”

• It is incorrect to say that the EPA is trying to allow “de-regulation.” Under the new administration, the EPA is trying to reverse a specific decision made using the agency’s authority under the Clean Water Act Section 404. If the EPA were trying to de-regulate, it would be trying to revoke portions of the Clean Water Act. In fact, in recent years, there have been attempts to change the Clean Water Act to remove EPA’s authority to impose restrictions on development that would cause adverse effects. None of those have succeeded.

• While PLP’s Tom Collier contends that it is untrue that the mine could destroy Bristol Bay, this is still unclear since the company has not released a plan. The EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment determined that adverse effects, including elimination or blocking of of miles of salmon-bearing streams, would likely happen as a result of the development of a large mine. It also addressed additional mine claims in the area, noting the region could be developed into a mining “district.” PLP recently stated that it has redesigned its plan to be much smaller and to reduce possibility of these effects. However it also has touted the project as a multi-generational opportunity at the Pebble deposit, with several other deposits in the area.

A CNN feature article that goes along with Bill Weir’s “The Wonder List,” gets a little bit wrong, too:

What the article said:

“In 2001, Northern Dynasty purchased the property and discovered a mother lode near Lake Iliamna.”

Why it’s wrong:

• Northern Dynasty doesn’t own the land where the deposit lies. The State of Alaska still owns the land. However, Northern Dynasty is the 100% owner of mining claims at the deposit, which gives it the opportunity to pursue development of the deposit. See our map of mining claims in the area, as of October 2017.

•  Northern Dynasty discovered “Pebble East” near Iliamna Lake in 2005. See our timeline of events.


The goal of Pebble Watch is to provide fact-based, impartial and educational information about the proposed Pebble mine. Please check out our Resources section for information about public input, permitting, science, EPA, regulations and more related to this controversial project.