Alaska legislators pen support for Pebble

February 13, 2014

The much maligned Pebble Project in Alaska received a welcome bit of political support from several Alaskan lawmakers who told the owner of the proposed mine that they believe large-scale mining “can be done right” in Alaska.

The letter, which was signed Senate President Charlie Huggins, Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, and Sens. Cathy Giessel and Kevin Meyer, was delivered to Northern Dynasty president and chief executive officer Ron Thiessen. Giessel chairs the Senate Resources Committee, and Meyer is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, The Associated Press reported.

In the letter to Thiessen the lawmakers said, “We appreciate the project team’s approach in making ongoing investments in environmental science and engineering studies prior to initiating permitting to ensure that any project at Pebble can co-exist with clean water, healthy fisheries and traditional ways of life.

“As elected leaders of the State of Alaska, we want you to know that Alaska is open to investment from those who seek to develop our state's natural resources safely and responsibly, and in a manner that respects and benefits its citizens and our country for generations to come,” they wrote.

The massive gold-and-copper prospect is near the headwaters of a world-premier salmon fishery in southwest Alaska. The letter comes as critics of the mine have urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to act to protect the watershed. EPA, in a recent report, found large-scaling mining in the region posed significant risks to salmon.

The letter also was signed by House Speaker Mike Chenault, and Reps. Eric Feige, Craig Johnson and Dan Saddler. Feige and Saddler are co-chairs of the House Resources Committee.

The letter offsets comments from Sen. Mark Begich who spoke out against the mine in January while speaking about the EPA’s final assessment of large-scale mining in the area.

Begich became the first lawmaker from the state to speak out against the proposed Project saying that he felt it was the, “wrong mine, wrong place, too big.” (ME, Jan. 22).

Senate Minority Leader Hollis French said those lawmakers do not speak for the full Legislature. He said there is deep division in opinion on Pebble.

On Jan. 15, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R-AK), and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) blasted the EPA over its study, emphasizing the prospect of EPA vetoing the mine under the Clean Water Act before developers submit a plan or seek permits. EPA says it doesn't yet know what direction it will take. A number of environmental, fishing and Native groups want it to kill the mine.

“For the EPA to come into Alaska and lay the groundwork to preemptively oppose a project located entirely on state lands, and subject to rigorous state permitting, is a serious threat to not only Alaska’s sovereignty, but the rights of states nationwide, regardless of the nature of the project subject to Clean Water Act permitting,” Young said in a press release.

“EPA’s assessment stops short of prohibiting responsible development in the Bristol Bay watershed, but the agency has strongly implied that this report will be a basis to preemptively veto economic opportunities in the region in the future,” Murkowski said. “I remain convinced that a preemptive veto of a mine or any other project, which the agency claims it can do under the Clean Water Act, would set a terrible precedent for development in our state and across the nation.”
 

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