TRYING TO PUSH ENVIRONMENTAL PROCESS INTO POST-TRUMP
Twenty members of the Alaska House of Representatives have asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an extension of the public comment period for the Pebble Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement. They want nine months to comment. That’s after Thanksgiving.
The 20 who are opposed to the project say 90 days is just not enough. All the legislators who signed the letter were Democrats (including Indie-Democrat Dan Ortiz), except for Fairbanks Republican Steve Thompson, whose name on the letter surprised Republicans in the Capitol. Thompson left the Republican majority and now caucuses with the Democrats, where he is their Majority leader. Two other putative Republicans who have long caucused with the Democrats also signed the letter — Gabrielle LeDoux and Louise Stutes.
Other signers were House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, and Reps. Andy Josephson, Harriet Drummond, Matt Claman, Grier Hopkins, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Zack Fields, Sara Hannan, John Lincoln, Dan Ortiz, Ivy Spohnholz, Andi Story, Geran Tarr, Adam Wool, Chris Tuck, Neal Foster, and Tiffany Zulkosky.
“The Pebble Project would have far-reaching impacts on both the commercial and the subsistence economies of the region,” the letter-writers state. “It is, arguably, the most important proposed Alaska project of our time. Alaskans deserve a fair chance to weigh in on it.”
What the letter writers hope for is that the nine-month comment period will allow national groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club to mount intense public pressure campaigns, as well as fundraising efforts to oppose the proposed mine in Western Alaska.
That timeframe would then coincide with a presidential election, and if environmentalists have their way, a new president who would squash the project, as occurred under the Obama Administration. The record of decision would come in the middle of the presidential election cycle, and also during the election cycle for Sen. Dan Sullivan.
The normal comment window for projects under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is 45 days.
Bristol Bay Native Corporation has also asked for a 270-day extension, although several years ago the Native Corporation was on record saying that a 60-day comment period was adequate for the much-larger project that was proposed before Pebble scaled down its plans. The Native Corporation is one of the local leaders of the opposition to the Pebble Project.
If the Corps capitulates to the request for a nine-month comment period, resource development advocates fear that the environmental impact statements for other projects would also suffer the same delay tactics.
Other major Alaska projects have had much shorter comment periods:
- ANWR Coastal Plain oil and gas leasing: 45 days, with a 30-day extension
- ConocoPhillips Greater Moose’s Tooth: 45 days, with a 10-day extension
- Hilcorp Liberty Project: 90 days, with a 22-day extension
- Donlin gold, 155 days, with a 31-day extension.
- Chukchi Sea Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Lease: 45 days, no extension
Notably, the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment in 2013, used by the Obama Administration to shut down the environmental impact statement process for Pebble, had just a 32-day public comment period, with a six-day extension.
The final environmental impact statement for Pebble is due in early 2020, with a “record of decision” to be published in mid-2020, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Public hearings, which are likely to attract many protesters and meeting disrupters, are scheduled for the coming weeks according to the published schedule: