The fight over the fate of what is one of the largest deposits of copper and gold ore in the world has raged for more than a decade. The mining industry and many state officials have supported the project for the revenue and other economic benefits it would bring. But some important Alaskan politicians, notably Senator Lisa J. Murkowski, a Republican, have been noncommittal, saying the mine should go forward only if it could be shown to be environmentally sound.
The project was effectively scuttled by the Obama administration, only to be revived by the Trump White House. Under the Trump administration the Environmental Protection Agency reversed an earlier ruling, allowing the environmental review by the Corps to proceed.
But support among Republicans was never as ironclad as it has been for some other projects with potential environmental consequences, notably potential oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, also in Alaska.
The Pebble project even generated a rare dispute within the Trump family. In August, Donald Trump Jr., an avid sportsman who has fished in the Bristol Bay area, tweeted his opposition to the mine: “The headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chances with. #PebbleMine.”
President Trump, when asked in following days about his son’s sentiments and the prospects for the project, said only that he would “look at both sides” of the issue and that politics would not play a role in any decision. Privately, however, administration officials said they expected that the permit would be approved.
But in September, the future of the multibillion dollar project appeared in doubt when secret recordings of company executives suggested that they were planning for a much larger mine, and one that would operate far longer, than what had been proposed to the Corps.
The recordings were obtained by an environmental advocacy group, with two members who were posing as potential investors in the project meeting by video with two project executives. The executives described how the mine could operate for 160 years or more beyond the proposed 20 years, and how its output could double after the first two decades.