Jenkins: Walker, politics and the Pebble Project
By Paul Jenkins |
If a state’s chief executive does not trust the rule of law or a permitting process put in place by lawmakers to govern resources extraction why should anybody else? Why would any company – why would any investor, for that matter – risk doing business in a state that would seek to suspend the rules and kill a project as a matter of politics?
Those are questions somebody should be asking Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who have joined those forces on the left who want to kill the controversial Pebble Mine without bothering to wait for any pesky permitting process.
Both are seeking re-election and appear busy courting Democrats, independent voters and the ends-justify-any-means crowd by trying to kill the proposed Pebble mine in a bid to win their greenie bona fides. Scrambling for votes, they are schlepping even further to the left to join Mark Begich, who once famously said of Pebble, “wrong mine, wrong place, too big.” He recently slapped Walker as being a softy in his opposition to the project.
Walker and Mallott, incredibly, want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ignore its duty and the law, and suspend the proposed mine’s Environmental Impact Statement process required by the federal National Environment Policy Act. The EIS barely is underway, with the extended “scoping” period to establish parameters for the impact statement just closed.
Instead, the two want a preliminary economic assessment at a minimum, or a “pre-feasibility study” before any EIS.
It is estimated the mine would produce 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum, although the project has been scaled back. Nobody really knows yet the final size or configuration of the proposed mine, owned by a Canadian company, Northern Dynasty Minerals.
Walker, Mallott et al., are not interested in waiting to find out. Walker tells the Corps the massive project about 200 air miles southwest of Anchorage should first demonstrate to Alaskans it is feasible and realistic, and be held to an “extraordinarily high standard.” Bristol Bay, he says, “supports the largest wild sockeye salmon fishery in the world – supplying almost half of the global wild sockeye and sustaining over 10,000 jobs.”
It should be noted the proposed mine site is on state land about 230 river miles, on the Nushagak River, from Bristol Bay.
Let me say this at the outset. I do not care whether the Pebble Project is completed or not. It is not my monkey; not my circus. I do care – and Alaskans should, too – that there is a defined process in place at the federal and state levels to decide such things. We all should care that elected and appointed officials at the state and federal levels have done their level best to derail that process before Pebble can even submit permits.
The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, has done its best from Day One to kill the project, stooping to using a laughably botched Bristol Bay risk assessment – it did not initially even pass peer review – and colluding with anti-Pebble forces to provide a foundation for a preemptive 404(c) action under the Clean Water Act to block Pebble’s development.
The EPA since 1972 has used the 404(c) section to kill projects only 13 times although some 80,000 wetlands fill permits for individual sites are issued annually. Using 404(C) to block Pebble would have been its first use to block mining in an entire region.
The EPA’s actions were so egregious Pebble sued in 2014.
A federal judge stopped the EPA from finalizing proposed restrictions on mining in the entire Bristol Bay watershed, and the agency and Pebble’s owners settled the lawsuits. The EPA withdrew its proposed “veto” of the mine under Section 404(c) and the Pebble project remained alive to begin a permitting process.
On the same day the scoping process ended, Friday, and the permitting process appeared on the threshold of getting underway, Walker and Mallott attempted to throw up their own roadblock, drawing fire from the Pebble Partnership.
“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,” the Partnership said in a news release.
If Walker and Mallott are concerned that Alaskans know whether Pebble is feasible and realistic; that all the questions are answered; that the proposed mine would meet an “extraordinarily high standard,” they should let the lengthy, excruciatingly detailed process grind and sift its way to the truth – and get out of the way. What they are proposing now hurts Alaska.
Because If a state’s chief executive does not trust the rule of law or a process put in place by lawmakers to govern resources extraction why should anybody else? Why would any company – why would any investor, for that matter – risk doing business in a state that would suspend the rules and kill a project as a matter of politics?
Moreover, what they are doing tells investors to take their business – and money, jobs and opportunities – elsewhere.