Democrats call for nine-month comment period on Pebble - Must Read Alaska
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Monday, September 20, 2021
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Democrats call for nine-month comment period on Pebble

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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:

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Anytime there is a proposal for the development of a new source of income for the State it meets with all kind of objections like the Papple mine development in special by Unions when they have no labor contract. When o when is there some development of income benefits to the state without special interest groups voicing all kind of objections.

  • You forgot to mention Andy Josephson, right at the top of the list of signatures. It would not surprise me to find that it was he that wrote the letter and then got his buds to sign it. You nailed it, Suzanne. The Dems hope to delay the ROD long enough for a Democratic president to kill Pebble, and they will be sorely disappointed when they find that Trump has been elected with an increased majority and the GOP retakes the House and increases their seats in the Senate. I think Trump will pitch his campaign as a choice between a market based economic system (Capitalism) and a government-directed economic system (Socialism). I’m reminded of what Reagan famously said, “Government is not the answer to the problem; government IS the problem.”

  • gee, imagine that. local people want to be thoroughly informed about how their lives and livelihoods may be impacted by a large-scale development project. the nerve.

    • So read the DEIS and be “Informed” Mitch. Over 1400 pages of information.

    • if you can’t do it in 90 days then you’re an idiot.

    • Read the DEIS and be “Informed” Mitch. 1400 plus pages of “thorough”

  • Thank you Suzanne for the common sense articles you put together and this one is once again right on the money. The actual information for anybody that is remotely interested in this project has been loaded for months on the https://pebbleprojecteis.com/ and to delay this for an additional 270 days is absolutely unheard of and serves for one purpose….To kill the explorer (Northern Dynasty Minerals), and push this out to a possible new more Obama friendly administration that will tank it and other infrastructure and mining potential projects that could help AK and it’s revenue problems, improve unemployment statistics and ultimately help reduce some drug and crime problems.

  • Sure seems like the eight years spent illegally subverting the process under the Obama administration was more than enough delay to the process. We are a nation of laws, why is it that so many in the left only believe in laws when they benefit from them? If you don’t like the Pebble project then state your concerns and allow the process to find out if they are valid or not. 90 days is plenty of time, especially since the antidevelopement crowd has had years and years to prepare.

    • Yeah, They had those eight years plus at least 10+ more before that!!!

  • I have to believe concentrating the ore and flying it to market makes more sense than all the proposed Pebble transportation rigamarole including barging it across Lake Iliamna.
    I also believe Pebble should seek sustainable hydropower, wind, and solar for its energy needs rather than natural gas from the Cook Inlet Basin.

    • Chris,

      I’m guessing the reason they wouldn’t refine the ore on site has two main reasons, environmental being the biggest, cost being the second. If just pulling the ore out of the ground causes the amount of outcry as it has, just imagine what it would be with a refining facility. This also plays into your next point getting hydropower is obviously not going to happen in this area, even if it was possible putting large scale dams and hydropower in addition to a mine is not going to fly with the antidevelopment folks. Wind and solar would require multiple times the land area that the mine is proposing to use, so the antidevelopment folks would also not allow that.

  • Suzanne, keep up the good work. The grandstanding is overdone. The US and Alaska need to learn independence, what it means, and how it is achieved. Most of the opposition is funded by China or special interest groups, all self serving at best. Pebble is being designed in a responsible way and the DEIS proves it. Many locals in the area support the mine and look forward to the economic benefits it will provide for thier families.

  • Dem’s are pandering to the politically correct issue du jour – and helping throw us Natives, our future under the bus.
    When Rio Tinto bailed out of Pebble they donated the 19% of Pebble they had earned, to two BB Native non-profits, BBNC getting the lion’s share.. This gave Rio a 500 million write-off.
    The BB Natives had 19% of Pebble, and could have had one, maybe two of theirs on both the NDM and PLP board of directors. How much more control over a mining operation could one possibly want? They could have guaranteed local hire, all of whom would have blown the whistle if PLP did anything to risk the environment.
    Sierra Club, NRDC, Trout Unlimited, and all the rest are making very pleasant noises to us, saying how they’re here to help us preserve our culture and way of life. Yet, they’re persuading us to actions which will take away our power to do so. Their agenda is DONATE!
    Money is power. Without money, we are at the mercy of those in power. BB Natives had some power, the 19% ownership of the Pebble mine. They threw that away for less than 8-million. When PLP gets a major miner partnered, that 19% would have immediately been worth at least 300 million.

  • Politicizing proposed resource projects will discourage future investment in the state. Pebble’s draft EIS showed that this project would have virtually ZERO IMPACT on the fishery or the environment.90 days is an adequate time period to hear from the public.

  • The draft Pebble EIS is barely out of the gate and already the opponents are demanding to extend the 90 day comment period to 270 days, a three fold increase. Obviously they are slow readers and/or have not been paying attention the plethora of environmental studies and the results therefrom re this project over the past years. The reaction from the House coalition is disappointing but not unexpected and is exactly why the international mining community rates Alaska on a par with Papau New Guinea for permitting efficiency. Such actions will definitely be noticed by the investment community. The action of the House coalition is also definitely at odds with Senator Murkowski’s efforts to promote national mineral security.

    • Alaska’s Dem’s didn’t learn from Stand4Salmon’s 2 to 1 defeat. They’re going cross-grain to all of Alaska’s businesses. Businesses put Dunleavy into office. He best not forget that.

  • The pipeline was going to kill all the caribou …..

  • Suzanne, great piece you wrote here. The Pebble Mine plan is an environmentally responsible design backed by science of our USACE. It took me a little over 5 hours, including distractions, to read the executive summary. This section most people will use to get a general understanding of the DEIS. You do not need 9 months let alone 90 days to read this. Mine Pebble, it’s certified safe via the NEPA process that is considered the World Standard (adored by NRDC) and used by over 100 nations worldwide.

  • Obviously, those who a 270 day comment period want it killed but don’t see that happening so they want it delayed, in the hopes that something will happen that will change the present equation.

    Of course during that time conditions for fundraising will be very favorable.

    If the comment period can’t be done in 90 days it should be approved.

  • There must have been a coordinated strategy by the BB goups and the ENGO’s about what to do if the DEIS came out positive for Pebble, which it did in spades. From the very first day it was released on February 20, there has been a universal clamor that 270 days minimum is required to not only comprehend the 1,400-page DEIS, but also everthing the ACOE has posted to its documents library on the Corps’ Pebble website .

    That is absurd. The Executive Summary is only 80 pages, easily read in an evening or two. If one attempted the herculean task of reading all the documents in the Corps’ Pebble library, alleged to be at least 360,000 pages, at the rate of 20 pages/day, not unreasinably slow for such dense material, it would take 49 years, not 270 days, to get through 360,,000 pages without skipping a single day in those 49 years. Put another way, one would have to read the equivalent of 300 King James Bibles or copies of War and Peace, both of which are massive at a mere 1,200 pages.

  • Northern Dynasty has Never operated a Mine ….. this mine has a huge impact on the watershed, you draw down the water table to dig a 2000 foot hole and not impact the 80 miles of salmon producing streams in its footprint… and we all know that it’s smaller footprint is not the intention here… economically it doesn’t pan out unless the the whole original area is mined. Open pit mines of this size destroy watersheds.. the Bristol Bay Forever initiative passed by 68 %……
    ALWAYS WILL BE THE WRONG MINE IN THE WRONG PLACE… Thanks Ted for your foresight

  • Replying to Mark Niver,
    I don’t think Northern Dynasty intends to operate Pebble. They do not have the capital nor the technical expertise to do so, though the company they are associated with, Hunter Dickenson, has operated several mines, including the Gibraltar mine near Williams Lake in British Columbia

    As to the economics od Pepple, PLP would not be applying for a federal permit if they did not think their proposal was economic.

    I think Northern Dynasty will ultimately sell its interest in the Pebble claims to a major mining company, who will develop the project. The deposit has low grade ore in the West Zone, the site of the open pit, but the strip ratio is a negligible 0.12:1, making for very liow operating costs. The grades in the East Zone are very much higher, but to mine it (probably by underground block caving), the permitting process would have to hegin anew with both federal, state, snd local permits required. An expansion will not take place until about five years of safely operating Pebble, thus earning a “social licence.”

    You say a Pebble mine “will have a huge impact on the watershed,” but that’s not what the Army Corps of Engineers or AECOM thinks. They say at p.54 of the Executive Summary that PLP’s proposal—Alternative 1–will not reduce the number of adulr salmon returning to the Kvichak and Nushagak river systems and, therefore, it is not expected to result in change to the long-term health of the commercial fisheries of Bristol Bay and Cook zinlet.

    • PLP has already stated that the current plan doesn’t pan out Economicaly .. they are counting on being able to expand.
      I I guess you believe everything that the Army Corps of Engineers says along with PLP. Removing 80 miles of salmon producing waterways Will have an affect of salmon returns.
      And this mine would only be economical with the Gold, silver and milibnium.
      68% of Alaskans don’t want this mine, and even higher percentage from the people who live in the area
      And how about the engineering firm PLP has hired that engineered Mount Polly… great success there…
      This whole project is a sham… Rio and Anglo were the smart ones … cut their losses….. two largest in the world … they know it to…. wrong mine…. wrong place… Bristol Bay Forever .

  • In the words of Joel the R*t Reynolds – preposterous! For the challenged reader, a 75 page summary is available.

  • Mark Niver,

    Where, specifically, has PLP ever stated that their current plan “does not pan out economically.”? Don’t bother searching because you won’t find it. What Ron Thiessen of NDM has stated is that obviously the current plan is economic, or they would not be going through the permitting process.

    And, yes, I prefer to believe what the Army Corps says rather than your blather.

  • I don’t have to search, it has just been publicly stated by PLP at the recent mining conference.
    It’s the reason they are core drilling this summer outside of their current mine plan.
    Studies have shown from scientific studies that the groundwater system in the area is all interconnected. Waters move freely underneath. When the proposed mine plan lowers the water table to dig their hole many more miles of salmon producing streams will dry up. Not to mention the acid mine drainage that will leach into the waterways of great magnitude.
    Also the copper dust I. The air that will affect the salmon smolt olfactory alarm system which leads to preditory trout.
    When the smolt are living in the top three feet of the lake they will be subjected to the ore barges traversing the lake. All of these factors would mean much less salmon in the Kvichak system … though the acid mine drainage will affect the Koktuli River that feeds the Nushagak ….

    • I’ve been there and seen the ground and it is a sieve.

  • Which “recent mining conference” would that be?

    The groundeater studies you refer to show that only Upper Tularik Creek has a groundwater connection to the South Fork Koktuli, and the mine operations will not affect Upper Tularilk Creek. There is no ground water connection between the N. Fork Koktuli and Upper Tularik Creek.

    Most of the smolt are at the northern shoreline of Lake Iliamna, not where the ferry will be cossing.

  • I’ve never heard Ron Thiessen state that the current mine plan is uneconomic. Which “recent mining conference” are you referring to?

    The drilling to be done this summer is for geotechnical drlling near Angel Point on the Kenai to test for suitable sites for the natural gas pipeline to enter Cook Inlet and for bathymetry work in Cook Inlet, required by AECOM as part of the permitting process. There is no exploratory drliing being done.

    The only groundwater connection is between Upper Tularik Creek and the S. Fork Koktuli, and the mine operations will not affect Upper Tularik whatsoever.

    The salmon smolt are mainly along the northerm shoreline of Lake Iliamna, away from where the ferry will be crossing.

  • The by-catch from the Bristol Bay fishery alone will kill far more fish than Pebble ever will. The by catch involves tossing perfectly edible fish overboard because they are unwanted.

    Whatever impacts to fish that will occur from a Pebble mine are required by law to be mitigated and compensated for, and PLP is developing a mitigation and compensation plan. That plan will be completed before the FEIS.

    As a matter of fact, the commercial fisheries will probably be enhanced, not diminished, by the Pebble mine as fish ladders are built beneath previously impassable waterfalls and beaver dams are opened for fish habitat in previously inaccessible areas.

  • I see, Mark, that you are parroting the latest talking point that the DEIS shows that Pebble will permanently destroy 80 miles of fish-bearing streams. That assertion is blatantly false. One might draw that conclusion from looking at the BBWA, but not if one takes the trouble to read the DEIS. Nowhere in the DEIS is there talk of 80 miles of streams being destroyed by a Pebble mine. Actually the EPA’s report gives a range of anywhere from 24 to 94 miles of fish-bearing streams that would be destroyed by Pebble, depending on the size of the mine. https://www.epa.gov/bristolbay/frequently-asked-questions-about-bristol-bay-assessment#Q16 (See under Mining/mine footprint.)

    The ENGO’s have evidently settled on 80 miles of streams destoyed by Pebble as their talking point, but nowhere do you see that in the DEIS. To be sure, tributary 1.19 of the N. Fork Koktuli will be permanently lost because of the placement of the bulk TSF, but that tributary does not contain many salmon anyway, and “in the context of the entire Bristol Bay drainage, with its 9,816 miles of currently documented anadramous waters, the loss of Tributary 1.19 represents a 0.08 percent reduction of documented anadramous stream habitat.” That passage is a direct quotation from the DEIS. (see p. 49 of the Executive Summary under the heading Alternative 1 and variants.)

  • To Mark Niver and others opposed to the Pebble Project. I would be happy to read and digest any solid info you have dilligently gathered that would support your position. However it seems that you, as well as the majority of opponents seem to cite “comments, studies & alleged facts” that never seem to be verified or substantiated. No links or “bibliography” to the origin of these “alleged facts” beyond other opponents opinions or falsehoods. It seems that Mr Owen has done his homework and has supporting info. I have an open mind in general but you give no real info to absorb. It seems that most opposing this project use equally baseless arguments.

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