Perpetua Resources announced on June 22 the receipt of its first permit for its proposed mining operation at the Stibnite Mine site in Valley County. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) issued a Clean Air Act Permit to Construct, dated June 17. The Air Permit mandates compliance with state and federal air standards and regulates emissions from construction and operation of the project.
“Receipt of our first permit marks a significant milestone for the Stibnite Gold Project,” said Laurel Sayer, president and CEO of Perpetua Resources, in a statement. “The approval demonstrates our commitment to comply with state and federal standards and the dedication of our team to fulfill the requirements of the permitting process.”
The permitting process for the air permit took three years of effort. Perpetua submitted its air permit application to IDEQ in 2019. As part of the permitting process, IDEQ invited the public to comment on the proposed Air Permit three times: in September 2020, February 2021 and January 2022.
Perpetua hired experts in mining emissions and air quality to support the technical evaluation by IDEQ in order to respond to public commentary. The final Air Permit was published by IDEQ on June 21, 2022. Along with the permit, IDEQ also included a basis document discussing technical issues and IDEQ’s responses to the third public commenting period held from Jan. 13 to March 16. All three documents are available on the IDEQ website.
The Air Permit is only the first of the many permits Perpetua needs to begin mining. Perpetua must obtain over 50 permits to be able to mine and perform restoration activities at Stibnite. The process for the permits is byzantine in complexity and takes years.
Most of those permits must go through the process laid out in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The overall purpose of NEPA is to ensure that federal agencies evaluate the potential environmental impacts of their actions. NEPA was created in response to criticism of federal projects that did not account for the environmental damage they did prior to its enactment. It was signed into law in 1970.
NEPA requires that commercial projects on federal land must also assess their environmental impact. The act also provides the means for stakeholders and the public to air their concerns over a project. The well-known environmental impact statement (EIS) and environmental assessment (EA) tools are the key tools for the NEPA process.
By the time the final EIS is issued by the National Forest Service (NFS) for the Stibnite Mine, the NEPA process will have taken seven years. “We anticipate that the NEPA portion of the permitting process will be finished by the end of 2023,” Mckinsey Lyon, Perpetua’s vice president for external affairs, outlined for the Idaho Business Review. “The rest of the permits should be completed by 2024 and we then will start the mine construction, also in 2024.”
Out of all the permits required, the NEPA-driven environmental approval — called a record of decision (ROD) — for a mine on public lands is the most expensive and time consuming. Here is what NEPA looks like to date for the Stibnite projects: Perpetua submitted its plan of restoration and operations (PRO) to the NFS in 2016, an action that marked the beginning of the NEPA process. In response to three years of scientific analyses and state and federal agency review, Perpetua submitted its modified PRO (ModPRO) to the NFS in 2019.
Based on the ModPRO, the NFS issued a draft EIS (DEIS) for public review and commentary in 2020. The DEIS presented five different possible plans for restoration and operations, including Perpetua’s ModPRO. After a review by the agency and public comments on the DEIS, Perpetua revised its ModPRO in order to reduce the footprint of the mine and improve water quality. This revision became the modified PRO 2 (ModPRO2).
Since Perpetua’s submittal of ModPRO2 in 2020, this revision has been through another round of technical review by regulatory agencies. A supplemental DEIS (SDEIS) is expected to be issued by the NFS during the third quarter of 2022 for another round of stakeholder and public review and commentary. After one last round of comments, replies and modifications, the NFS will issue a final EIS (FEIS) and a ROD approving the mine on NFS land.
Perpetua announced on June 9 that it awarded the contract for its voluntary good-will clean-up of tailings and water quality at Stibnite to IMCO Construction, a Ferndale, Washington, firm with an office in Boise. Groundbreaking for the voluntary clean-up at Stibnite is scheduled for July 12. Water quality at Stibnite is currently degraded by elevated levels of arsenic and antimony from millions of tons of mine wastes left behind by previous operators over the last 100 years.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to Perpetua’s clean-up offer in January 2021 and issued a ROD permitting the remedial activity. The EPA acknowledged this was voluntary and that Perpetua would not incur liability for its good-will effort. Perpetua’s remediation project is independent of the mine permitting process. Permits for the mine are in no way contingent on Perpetua’s voluntary clean-up of previous mining activities by other companies.r