GOVERNOR WANTS FEDS TO ABORT ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW OF MINE
No sooner had the Friday deadline passed to help determine the range of an environmental impact statement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was asked by Alaska’s governor to stop the Pebble Mine Project environmental review in its tracks.
Gov. Bill Walker on Saturday told the Corps to just say “no” to Pebble’s due process for an environmental impact statement process.
“The PLP (Pebble Limited Partnership) has yet to demonstrate to us or the Alaska public that they have proposed a feasible and realistic project. Without, at minimum a preliminary economic assessment, but preferably a pre-feasibility study, the corps will be unable to take a hard look at all the reasonable alternatives in the draft EIS,” the governor wrote in a letter to the Corps that was also signed by Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott.
That may be true, but especially so because the project hasn’t been able to go through an environmental review process to make its case for mine-watershed compatibility.
The Walker Administration has previously taken a stand against the Pebble Mine, even while the mine developer has scaled the project back to within a range of what the EPA had once said would be acceptable. But during a gubernatorial debate in Naknek earlier this month, Democratic challenger Mark Begich said Walker was not doing enough to oppose the mine. On Saturday, Walker responded to Begich’s election-year jibe and stepped up his game in challenging the Corps.
The objective of the scoping was simply to identify specific elements of the environment that might be affected by the copper and gold mine planned for 200 miles West of Anchorage.
This spring, the Walker Administration asked the Corps to delay the scoping deadline, which it did — from April 30 to June 29. It was a delay tactic by the Walker Administration, but it wouldn’t be his last word on the matter.
“Given the unique characteristics of the region, the mine proposed by Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) must be held to an extraordinarily high standard,” Walker wrote. “I thank you for previously extending the scoping period, as requested in a letter from Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mack to Colonel Michael Brooks.”
Walker said that the project should go through a “pre-feasibility study” before the Corps would be allowed to thoroughly review the environmental impact statement.
Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier issued a statement of his own on Saturday, in response to the governor’s letter:
“The governor has said we have a high bar to demonstrate how we can mine and protect the salmon in the area around Pebble. It is this Corps Environmental Impact Statement process that will give Alaskans answers and assurance to this very issue. We believe we can successfully and responsibly operate a mine at Pebble. This is what the Corps will evaluate and we can either meet this expectation or we cannot.
“The scoping process for Pebble has just concluded and we look forward to reviewing the scoping report outlining the many issues that the Corps will review in their evaluation of Pebble.
“We find it incredibly disappointing that the governor’s request to suspend the NEPA process is nearly identical to that brought forward by the anti-Alaska, anti-development Natural Resources Defense Council. We expect this type of stall tactic from ENGOs opposed to any kind of development but not from the Governor of Alaska and especially when the project is on Alaska land. Frankly, the governor does not make a compelling case to suspend the NEPA process.
“It is this type of behavior that makes many in the global investment community reluctant to invest in Alaska. Alaska is consistently ranked very high for our resource potential yet we continue to score poorly on political and permitting stability, frequently showing up with jurisdictions that have very little regard for the rule of law.
“Pebble is located on state land and as such is a potentially important asset for Alaska’s economic future. Pebble could provide jobs, revenue, and economic activity for the region and the rest of the state. As such, it must be thoroughly evaluated. We believe our technical and environmental work can meet Alaska’s standards for development and when we do that we can put thousands to work.
“We know that that vast majority of Alaskans, regardless of their views about our project, support the rule of law and a fair process for reviewing Pebble. The Governor of Alaska should believe in this process too,” Collier said.
During the scoping process, people were invited to recommend the kinds of topics that an environmental impact statement should include. A review of the comments made online reveal that the vast majority of comments were simply opposed to the project under any conditions, and were not actual recommendations to determine the scope of the environmental investigation.
Pebble has been a lightning rod project, spawning ballot initiatives since 2008, when 57 percent of Alaskan voters said no to a ballot measure that would have killed the project. This year’s Stand for Salmon ballot initiative is strongly motivated by environmentalists’ desire to stop the Pebble Mine.