Don’t be alarmed by mine

Permit process just getting started for Pebble project

Posted: Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Many things have changed in Alaska during the last 100 years. We have fought the federal government for control of our resources. We achieved statehood. We built responsible and accountable permitting systems to protect our valuable fish and wildlife populations.

This is the Alaska I know — an Alaska of infinite potential and possibility, where we can do things that those in the other 49 states only dream of doing. However, I see challenges to that spirit that makes us so uniquely Alaskan. There is perhaps no better example than the fish refuge issue that will no doubt wind up before the Alaska Legislature this year.

A relatively new environmental group, the Renewable Resources Coalition, is attempting to prevent the proposed Pebble Mine project from getting a fair hearing through our established permitting process.

A proposal to create a fisheries refuge in the Bristol Bay region recently went before the Alaska Board of Fish, which set up a panel to study the proposal before moving forward with any recommendation or action. Legislation is being discussed now to set up this refuge, even as the Board of Fish subcommittee is preparing its study work.

Clearly, the target of this action is the Pebble project — a proposed development that could create over 1,000 well-paying local jobs. A fisheries refuge would add another layer of regulation and permitting to the already extensive large-mine permitting process — and also provide the foundation for future lawsuits.

As a former Speaker of the Alaska State House of Representatives, I have been involved extensively in many public policy issues throughout the years from ANWR to education funding. One thing I have learned through my experiences is the importance of established public processes.

Alaskans should be proud of the environmental permitting processes we have in place — processes that ensure protection of our valuable fisheries, wildlife and subsistence resources. As a young state, we had the opportunity to observe the missteps of other states and to put in place safeguards to ensure that the way they do things in the Lower 48 is not the model we use here. In fact, Alaska has established a proven record of successful resource development that is used as a model for the rest of the entire world.

The project’s opponents would have you believe that this proposed development, which has not yet even applied for major permits, will ruin the entire Bristol Bay fishery. Since the project’s sponsors have not submitted a mine plan, its opponents have no factual basis upon which to base this claim. Aside from the issue’s merits, it is the precedent that most troubles me as an Alaskan.

Alaska is a resource-dependent state, and will be for the foreseeable future. If we truly believe that environmental protection and resource development can’t coexist, what does that portend for the future of Alaska? Where will the jobs come from for our children and grandchildren?

I choose to believe that mining can be a part of a healthy, diverse, growing economy. And I choose to believe in the can-do spirit of Alaska. We can develop our resources, and we can protect the environment, because in Alaska, we do it better.

I urge Alaskans not to listen to the alarmist rhetoric of a shadow environmental group. And I urge the Alaska Legislature, for reasons of sound public policy, to reject any attempts to kill the Pebble Project before it gets to it’s proper forum — the legally-established permitting process.

Gail Phillips is the former Republican representative for District 7 and was the chair of the House Special Committee on Economic Development and Tourism.

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