As you read the final EIS for the Pebble project’s 20-year plan, keep in mind you’re reviewing one of the last EIS documents developed under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidelines in place since 1978.
The Pebble project is expected to try and expand operations at some time in the future. Any EIS associated with a new permit application will look different due to regulatory changes approved by the Trump administration earlier this month.
Northern Dynasty Minerals, owner of Pebble Limited Partnership, has been clear with its investors that a fully developed project is a generational mining opportunity and that it hopes to gain “social license” to expand once the 20-year plan is approved. Its corporate presentation lists Pebble as the “world’s most extensive mineral system.” Existing mining claims extend well beyond the footprint of the existing plan.
When critics have raised concerns about why the Army Corps of Engineers is not considering environmental impacts of a fully developed mine, the agency has reassured them that Pebble developers would have to go through the same process again for any future expansion.
As part of an overhaul of the regulatory process, the Trump administration finalized these major changes to NEPA on July 15. They are subject to congressional review, but are expected to take effect on September 14.
A future EIS will not have to address cumulative or indirect impacts of development activities. Its scope and alternatives analyzed could be limited, the timeframe for developing it would be shorter, and the size (unless the agency got special permission), couldn’t exceed 300 pages. The final EIS for the 20-year Pebble plan rests at around 2,400 pages (5,400 pages with appendices).
Changes to NEPA include:
- No requirement to include “cumulative effects” and removing reference to “indirect effects.”
- The purpose and need for a project (and thus the range of alternatives considered) will be based on the applicant’s goals and the agency’s statutory authority. This will reduce the number of alternatives and scope the Corps is currently required to consider.
- Presumptive time of two years to produce an EIS.
- 150-page limit (300 pages for a complex project), unless a special waiver is given.