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Perpetua could get $1.8 Billion from U.S. Export-Import Bank; Stibnite permits still pending

 Standing at the foot of the Yellow Pine pit, a man-made lake resulting from generations of past mining at Stibnite. The photo faces west, with the outlet of the east fork south fork Salmon River in the foreground.
Troy Oppie
Boise State Public Radio
Standing at the foot of the Yellow Pine pit, a man-made lake resulting from generations of past mining at Stibnite. The photo faces west, with the outlet of the east fork south fork Salmon River in the foreground.

The company planning to resurrect gold and antimony mining in Valley County’s historic Stibnite district could get most of its operation start-up costs covered by financing from the government-backed Export-Import Bank (EXIM).

Perpetua Resources announced it received a "letter of interest" from the bank through its “Make More in America” and “China and Transformational Exports Program.”

"From EXIM's potential financing of up to $1.8 billion to the multiple Department of Defense's multi-million dollar awards to Perpetua, there is a profound recognition that we need domestic antimony production now. The EXIM debt funding could fund a substantial portion of the estimated costs to build the Stibnite Gold Project,” said Perpetua President and CEO Jon Cherry in a news release.

Cherry succeeded previous President and CEO Laurel Sayer, who retired in March. Perpetua previously announced it has received $54.9 million in Defense Production Act Title III funding from the U.S. Department of Defense toward resuming antimony mining at Stibnite.

The Stibnite Gold project would become the first domestic source of antimony in decades, a critical mineral used predominantly in energy and defense manufacturing and other uses. Ninety percent of all the world’s mined antimony currently comes from China, Russia and Tajikistan.

The gold and silver mined alongside antimony in Idaho would make the project profitable, according to the company.

The EXIM letter is not an award or guarantee of funding; Perpetua will need to apply for the financing - though it may receive favorable treatment because of production competition with China.

An Export-Import Bank spokeswoman did not answer specific questions about how they evaluate mining companies for financing, or how many similar companies have qualified previously, but did provide a statement from an unnamed "senior EXIM official."

“Letters of interest are nonbinding statements that indicate that EXIM is open for business in the market identified and is willing to consider financing for a given export transaction should an application be submitted,” the statement said.

The financing would be contingent upon successful permitting of the project, which remains in limbo.

While site preparation and some Superfund cleanup of previous mining leftovers at Stibnite have already begun, fewer than ten major state permits remain in progress before new mining can begin according to a company spokesman. Several others, like drinking water permits, would be needed for operations but are not considered major.

One of the first permits granted to the project came from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, but that was quickly challenged by environmental advocates and the Nez Perce Tribe.

Idaho DEQ awarded an Air Quality Permit to Construct in 2022. Petitioners say DEQ erred in granting the permit without specifying exactly how dust from blasting and vehicles - some of which likely containing arsenic - would be controlled at the site.

“People who work or recreate near the mine area could be exposed to dangerous levels of particulate and arsenic pollution,” said Bryan Hurlbutt, attorney with Advocates for the West, who represents the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Conservation League in the appeal. “Relying on assurances from a mining company, as DEQ did here, without setting important permit conditions fails to protect the public and fails to comply with the law,” he said in a press release when the appeal was filed.

Petitioners and Perpetua presented their arguments on the issue to the DEQ Environmental Quality Board March 14. Perpetua says it plans to capture 93% of dust and particulate matter on site, and it based that number off operational plans. DEQ’s attorney in that hearing, Deputy Attorney General Hannah Young, said some inspection aspects of the permit were more stringent than any other permit DEQ has issued. The Board is expected to issue a decision in a meeting May 1.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service continues to work on the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the project. Perpetua has adjusted some of its plans based on feedback to previous draft EIS statements, and the final EIS was intitally expected to be released in late 2023. The Forest Service only provides estimates of completion, and its latest was for the final EIS to be ready April 1.

Perpetua spokesman Marty Boughton wrote by email the company anticipates the final EIS in the second quarter this year and a final record of decision from the USFS by the end of the year. The Service also includes in that process an objection period between the release of the Final EIS and the draft Record of Decision.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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