Jenkins: We have a process for resource projects; use it

By Paul Jenkins |

Alaskans right about now should be demanding the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission yank the plug on the state’s proposed $45 billion liquefied natural gas project.

The massive undertaking’s fate is pending before that panel, which could kill it by refusing to issue necessary authorizations. Alaskans should call for a halt in its environmental review process — governed by the National Energy Policy Act, the same as, say, the proposed Pebble Mine project’s process.

The Alaska LNG Project, abandoned by the North Slope’s top producers as unfeasable, would move Alaska gas 800 miles from the North Slope to a liquefaction plant in Nikiski for processing and shipment to Asian markets.

Why should its assessment be shut down? The AK LNG Project has yet to demonstrate to the Alaska public it is a feasible and realistic project. Without, at minimum, a preliminary economic assessment — or preferably a pre-feasibility study — FERC will be unable to take a hard look at all the reasonable alternatives. Given the unique characteristics of the regions the pipeline would pass through, the project must be held to an extraordinarily high standard.

Whoa, wait a minute. That language is almost identical to that used by Alaska’s Republican-cum-independent governor, Bill Walker, and his Democrat sidekick, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, in a letter demanding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspend (read: kill) the proposed Pebble Mine out of hand. To save Bristol Bay’s fish, they said. And jobs. The mine site is located, mind you, some 230 Nushagak River miles away from fish-rich Bristol Bay, on state land designated for mining.

The two, apparently, are out to set precedent. Pipeline opponents — and they are legion — should be ecstatic. If Walker and Mallott somehow can shut down the Pebble Project, sidestepping the comprehensive, grinding permit process now in place, Alaskans may have a way to brake Walker’s gas line boondoggle.

But, in reality, blowing out the AK LNG Project’s pilot light before the FERC process can run its course makes no sense. Sidestepping the law and suspending the permitting process for Pebble makes no sense, either. Both projects deserve a fair hearing, with the chips falling where they may.
You may wonder, as I do, how Walker and Mallott can, with straight faces, attempt to short-circuit Pebble while their LNG project gets the benefit of the law and a fair permitting process. It violates that goose-gander thingy.

Let me say this: I do not care about Pebble or the AK LNG Project. Not my monkey; not my circus. What I do care about — and Alaskans should, too — is that there is a defined, deliberative process in place at the federal and state levels to pick apart and weigh such projects. We all should care that elected and appointed officials at the state and federal levels have done their high-handed best to derail that process in Pebble’s case before it can get off the chocks.

Why are Walker and Mallott — never friends of Pebble — trying to drive a stake in the proposed mine’s heart? Politics. I blame Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Sen. Mark Begich, who once famously said of Pebble, “wrong mine, wrong place, too big,” and who recently jabbed Walker as being a Pebble weenie. Successfully burying the mine project by circumventing due process would win Alaska’s No. 1 and No. 2 their greenie spurs for the upcoming election.

Pebble, owned by a Canadian company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, has been a target since it first was proposed. The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, has done its best to kill it, even stooping to use a laughably botched Bristol Bay environmental risk assessment that could not even initially pass peer review. The agency also was accused of colluding with anti-Pebble forces to provide a foundation for an unprecedented preemptive 404(c) action under the Clean Water Act to block Pebble’s development.

The EPA since 1972 has used that provision to sink projects slightly more than a dozen times; blocking mining in an entire region would have been a first. Its actions were so egregious Pebble sued in 2014.
A federal judge put the kibosh on the proposed region-wide mining restrictions, and the agency and Pebble’s owners settled the lawsuit. The EPA withdrew its proposed “veto” of the mine and the Pebble project remained alive to begin a permitting process — the same one Walker and Mallott are trying to quash.

Any reasonable person would wonder why investors, after watching Pebble’s repeated savagings, would sink billions of dollars into Alaska for, say, a massive LNG project. The state’s chief executives, after all, do not trust the rule of law or the assessment process in place — and would kill a project simply as a matter of politics.

Who in their right mind needs that kind of grief?

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