North of 60 Mining News - The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

Parnell lauds Alaska permitting process

"The state will continue to defend our permits that we issue, and our permitting process. That is the least I can do as governor"


Last updated 11/22/2009 at Noon

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell reflected on Alaska's rich mining history and vowed to defend the state's mining regulatory process and to oppose unjust attacks on the industry during an address to miners at the Alaska Miners Association 2009 Annual Convention.

While falling short of pointing directly to those who are fighting to prevent development and further exploration at the Pebble project in Southwest Alaska, the Alaska Governor's words addressed the issues state regulators and the Pebble Mine owners are facing.

"We are well aware of increased opposition to specific mining projects in Alaska, as well as some outright opposition to any mining in Alaska. Unfortunately this opposition is far removed from a reasonable conversation about environmental safety and standards, but relies instead on media, misperceptions and legal maneuvers. As governor I am going to fight, and I am fighting, for what is best for Alaska and Alaskans," Gov. Parnell told the crowd Nov. 6.

Fighting for the process

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources recently came under fire from Pebble detractors for the state's process for issuing water and land use permits needed to conduct exploration at the massive copper-gold-molybdenum deposit.

Environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska - on behalf of Nunamta Aulukestai, Jack Hobson, and former Alaska First Lady Bella Hammond, among others - contends the land and water use permits issued to Pebble's developers by DNR are unconstitutional due to a lack of public notice and analysis of whether the permits are in the public's interest.

The plaintiffs assert that the Alaska Legislature and DNR have created a scheme that allows the regulatory agency to issue temporary water use permits without public notice and public interest, and has asked the court to declare the currently issued permits void and of no effect. The Superior Court Judge is expected to rule on the injunction during the next hearing on the case scheduled for Nov. 27.

"Some deny the existence of a lengthy and complex process that involves both state and federal agencies to ensure our air, water, fish and wildlife resources are adequately protected. That is just not right," Parnell said.

Pebble opponents have also taken their attack on the state's regulatory process to the airwaves.

An advertisement by Alaska Wild Salmon Protection Inc., running on Alaska airwaves, claims "There are no standards in Alaska's mine permitting process. Nope, international mining companies could dig up 50 feet of Alaska salmon streams or 50 miles."

The commercials claim that "an independent review of the Pebble Process" is needed.

"The state will continue to defend our permits that we issue, and our permitting process. That is the least I can do as governor," Parnell said. "I will fight for these processes because they are working. We only have to look at our many successes to understand that."

Stringent standards

The governor pointed to the records of the state's five existing mines as examples of how Alaska's permitting process is working.

"Our two largest mines, Red Dog and Fort Knox, the water quality is better and the fish abundance greater now than before mining began," Parnell pointed out.

Referring to the theme of the AMA 2009 Convention, "Modern Mine Reclamation", Governor Parnell paid special tribute to the long-running reclamation program at the Usibelli Coal Mine. He outlined the many steps the coal miner takes, from mine planning to seed planting, to successfully reclaim the mine after the coal has been removed.

Governor Parnell said Alaska's regulatory standards to permit mines in the state are necessarily stringent in order to protect the environment.

"The State of Alaska, working with federal regulators, will hold all miners to Alaska's highest environmental standards. We won't sacrifice our exceptional fisheries, wildlife and water resources. The state is up to this challenge, and frankly I think the (mining) industry is as well," Parnell said.

To emphasize the thorough and lengthy mine permitting process in Alaska the governor listed a litany of requirements that must be met in order to obtain the permits needed to open a mine and keep it in good standing.

"Our permitting standards start with environmental baseline data collection, dozens of authorizations from state, federal and local agencies are required before a mine can begin operations; and denial of any one of these operations can shut you down," the Alaska Governor reminded the miners in attendance.

Addressing federal issues

The Alaska Governor also addressed federal issues that could affect the state's mining industry. Parnell said his administration has been vigorously working to reject the listing of the Polar Bear as a threatened species.

"There are powerful special interest groups who are misusing the Endangered Species Act to severely restrict exploration and production in Alaska, and I am not going to stand idly by while that happens," Parnell said. "We want to ensure the ESA is not used as a land management tool to lock up our lands and decimate our jobs."

Parnell said the state is following and commenting on changes to federal laws and policies that could affect Alaska's mining industry, including proposed changes to the 1872 Mining Law.

"While we acknowledge the need to revise some federal laws, we believe the legislation would unjustifiably harm the domestic mining industry and the Alaska mining industry in particular," the governor explained.

He said the proposed legislation would restrict additional federal lands from mining activities as well as cause redundancies in laws and federal oversight.

Governor Parnell said proposed federal legislation to revise the Clean Water Act would result in almost limitless federal authority over water and wetlands and diminish individual states' rights to manage their intrastate waters and their lands.

"This is particularly alarming to the state of Alaska, which has an abundance of isolated waters and more wetlands than all of the other states combined. We are going to remain vigilant and active in opposing these broad expansions of federal authority," Parnell vowed.

Rich history, promising future

Though Governor Parnell dedicated the bulk of his speech to issues facing the industry, he also reflected on Alaska's rich mining history that dates back to 1847 when Russian explorers discovered gold at the Russian River on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula.

"The allure of mining has helped shape our state, and it has defined us as a people," Parnell said.

Nor did he fail to speak of the future potential of mining in the state.

Parnell said state regulators are ready to begin the permitting process for the Donlin gold project in Southwest Alaska, being developed by a partnership between Barrick Gold Corp. and NovaGold Resource Inc. He also pointed to International Tower Hill Mine's Livengood gold project and Pure Nickel's Man nickel-platinum group element projects as examples of exploration that is unlocking the state's mineral potential.

"In my view Alaska provides the greatest opportunities for mineral exploration and development in all of North America, and we just tapped the surface," Parnell said.


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