Can we trust the Pebble permitting process?

I attended the public presentation given by Pebble Partnership last week in Homer. I asked Mike Heatwole, vice president of public affairs, how much public land would be off-limits to hunting if Pebble is approved. He said this will be "negotiated" with the Department of Natural Resources.

This gets to the heart of what's wrong with State's permitting process. Instead of meeting definitive criteria established a priori, important aspects of permitting will be negotiated; in essence a politically-based call.

This raises serious concern. Despite all the rhetoric about rigorous permitting, the statutory requirements for DNR's water rights permit (vital for Pebble) are based on "the commissioner shall consider." The statute does list several generic concerns, but never defines consider; hence requiring nothing that is technically defensible. Apparently, reading a report could qualify. In short, the statute gives the commissioner wide discretion, leaving the door open for lots of private negotiation and judgment about what data suffices, verification, resource trade-offs, etc. Is this comforting? Not to me.

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