Compass: Alaskans need to let permitting process work in Pebble application

By SEN. MIKE DUNLEAVYOctober 4, 2013 

Most Alaskans strive to grow and prosper and welcome those willing and able to invest their expertise and resources towards development of our state resources. Over the years, Alaska has developed permitting requirements that must be met before any project is allowed to proceed. Those decisions are based upon the data and science submitted to the state that allow it to then judge whether the project meets the predetermined standards. This protects the state and provides predictability and stability for the investors.

If this permitting process is not allowed to occur, politics replaces science and an unpredictable investment environment results. Alaska will then deservedly gain a reputation in the international marketplace as a risky long-term investment where returns on such large investments are projected over decades.

On Sept. 16, Anglo American, the major international financial investor, announced it was withdrawing from Pebble, leaving behind a huge investment and a consensus world-class mining prospect. This should raise major concerns for Alaskans.

In Alaska, in addition to the thousands of support service jobs, Pebble is anticipated to directly create 3,000 new Alaska operational jobs, each paying in excess of $100,000 annually.

These are not minimum-wage jobs but rather are high-scale family wage employment, which is exactly what is needed in Alaska. Preliminary estimates are that the Pebble deposits may very well sustain decades of mining operations and may continue for the next 100 years. Alaska desperately needs to expand its private sector.

To be perfectly clear, Alaska has neither endorsed nor opposed the Pebble prospect, nor should we until we have all of the facts, but the facts will only surface through studies and data gathered through the permitting process. We have successfully attracted many large-scale resource projects in the past that have provided the backbone of our economy. Every one of these projects was allowed to, and required to, submit its projects through our comprehensive permitting process. Why should the Pebble studies not proceed in the same scientific process?

What will Alaskans lose if that permitting process is not pursued? (1) Alaska will lose extremely valuable scientific data that would have been required during permitting and that would be of great importance to future projects; (2) large-scale investors will definitely take notice and will factor this uncertainty into their initial assessment on whether Alaska provides a stable attractive investment atmosphere that bases its long-term decisions on facts rather than media advertising blitzes, personalities or politics; and (3) without any scientific or economic analysis, the state will not even be in consideration for the jobs and development that this major Pebble prospect may have brought to us.

One of the main reasons stated by Anglo American for withdrawing from Alaska is for them "to reduce the capital required to sustain such project during the pre-approval phases of development." They are walking away from more than $541 million that they have already invested into this Pebble prospect! I am afraid Alaska has sent the wrong message and the marketplace has replied.

We either honor and trust our permitting system or rely upon the whim of the day. If I am asked to make such an important policy decision as Pebble, I insist on having the facts rather than rely upon innuendo, mass media advertising or political posturing.

What is surprising is the failure of major labor and business organizations in Alaska to speak up. If Alaskans truly want to diversify our economy and quit relying solely on the petroleum industry for creation of jobs, we need to create and maintain a healthy climate for attracting capital investments.

No one, including myself, wants to jeopardize our world-class fishery, but in order to truly understand the impact on this treasured fishery, science needs to be our guide. If we believe there are ways to improve the permitting process, to the benefit of all Alaskans, then we should pursue such improvements. However, Alaskans should not be afraid, and should insist that our permitting process not be short-circuited. Our economic future will depend upon it.

Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, won election to the state Senate in 2012.

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