Sen. Ted Stevens, visiting the Kenai Peninsula for the opening ceremonies of the Arctic Winter Games, outlined his opposition to the Pebble Mine Project, vowed a continued fight to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and urged state legislators to create a climate for investment in Alaska during a press conference Sunday.
Stevens, who planned to return to Washington on Sunday night after the opening ceremonies, took time to meet reporters before a meeting with community members.
Gold mining was the first item on the agenda. The senator announced his opposition last week to a plan by the Canadian corporation Northern Dynasty Mines Ltd. to open southwest Alaska’s Pebble Mine. His opposition is based on the region’s other natural resource: salmon.
“That is a significant area for salmon production and the salmon is already depleted,” Stevens said. “There’s no reason to proceed with a mine of that size to be undertaken by people that have never run a mine before.”
The approach used to promote the project also concerns the senator. Northern Dynasty hired lobbyists before the permitting process has begun.
“I find that a bit strange, frankly. Normally, a mining operator would be in a position to try and get the facts and develop the basic approach to a project like this, but they seem to be very interested in getting people to represent them and promote this to various government agencies that don’t have anything to do with permitting.”
While Stevens had no specific commentary related to Gov. Frank Murkowski’s proposed increase in the oil revenue tax on producers which would put the tax at 20 percent based on current prices he did have some general statements about the tax’s role in Alaska’s energy future. Alaska has many energy resources to develop, he said, and a investment-friendly climate is important.
“We need investment for the (natural gas) pipeline, we need investment for the Outer Continental Shelf, we need investment for (North Slope) gas hydrates, we need investment for the timber, to turn it into ethanol,” he said. “We are investment-poor. If we put in some tax policies that indicate we are antagonistic to investment and we do not understand that the more investment there is here, the greater return we’ll have for our children, we’re liable to deprive our children of the opportunity they should have.”
Stevens will address the Alaska Legislature on March 21.
“I think the Legislature is doing it right to examine it very carefully,” he said.
Agrium’s Blue Sky Project, which would use coal Beluga Coal Fields to produce natural gas to run its Nikiski ammonia and urea operations, was another idea Stevens supports. Alaska, he said, has “the greatest energy future of any area in the world,” if investment is found for such projects.
He hopes the rest of the country will come to understand that, specifically in regard to ANWR, he said.
“I am optimistic we will once again get it before the Congress, but what happens depends upon people in the United States waking up to the fact that this is a resource we could be producing now. There’s no question that we need that oil, and there’s capacity in that pipeline to carry it to market.”
Stevens also addressed the budget cuts slated for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over the next two years. The cuts would affect 13 Alaska projects relating to tsunami warnings, wildlife protection and monitoring, climate change research, fisheries management and several other areas.
Stevens said some of the cuts, like a budget maneuver that shifted Alaska project funds to a research center in Seattle, are being reworked with NOAA’s help. The Seattle center, NOAA has indicated, got Alaska funds by mistake.
“We believe a sizable number of those will actually be funded in the budget and I won’t be faced with earmarks for all those things for Alaska.”
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