EPA should not pre-empt permitting process

During my tenure as chairman of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, one of the most important lessons I learned is that transparency matters in public affairs. People want to be informed about issues that affect them, and they deserve the opportunity to weigh in on those issues. That's the public process.

At the same time, project developers deserve the opportunity to perform the research, present the findings to the public and follow the steps required by federal, state and local regulators. That's the permitting process.

Recently, a group of folks from the Pebble Partnership held public meetings in Soldotna and Homer. They arranged for environmental consultants to present information and answer questions about the research that has gone into the proposed project.  A team of 100 independent scientists and researchers recently completed an enormous Environmental Baseline Document, containing findings that represent one of the most extensive environmental research programs ever undertaken for a resource project in Alaska.

I commend the Pebble Partnership for going above and beyond the normal public process to ensure the people on the Kenai Peninsula have a chance to get their questions answered and also to meet these scientists face to face, discuss their concerns and get their professional opinions.

With any project, it is crucial to understand the science in order to determine if it's a viable and responsible project. The Pebble Partnership understands this and is doing everything in their power to present the science in an understandable, transparent format. They are showing good faith.

We should show them the same good faith. The Pebble project deserves the chance to present their mine plan and navigate the permitting process. Opponents of the project are trying to stop this process by convincing the EPA to use its 404c veto authority. The 404c authority is an emergency power that the EPA has used just 13 times in the past 40 years, and never on a project in the pre-permitting phase, such as Pebble.

The EPA will have the opportunity to perform a full evaluation of the proposed project as part of the NEPA permitting process. The permit application will trigger permitting authority reviews, including environmental impact assessments addressing the same issues the EPA is considering in its premature review. Exercising 404c in a premature situation such as this would set a dangerous precedent that presents investment risks to all future development projects in the state, with potentially disastrous economic results.

The bottom line is, the people of the region -- and all Alaskans for that matter -- deserve to be informed about Pebble, and the Pebble Partnership deserves to go through the established permitting channels. This is how the public process works.  And this is the only way to truly evaluate if Pebble can be a responsible project Alaskans can be proud of.

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