No matter where you stand as Alaskans on Pebble -- opposed, support or undecided -- the EPA's decision to use the Clean Water Act to most likely prohibit the mine is a troubling, unnecessary intervention that skips its own fair, thorough process already in place.
Alaska has successfully developed natural resources for many tens of years in partnership with the EPA using the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Cook Inlet development, the major mines, North Slope, TAPS, Point Thomson, all were evaluated and developed after extensive NEPA evaluations of the proposed development. Clean Water Act considerations are included in the process. That is, and has been, the designated process for this type of natural resource project. Equally important is the fact that a majority of environment organizations actively support NEPA as a process that offers a balance to development. I am not aware of any major Alaska resource development that did not use NEPA until the EPA announced they would sidestep NEPA and use the Clean Water Act for Pebble.
Let me be clear about this EPA announcement. Under the Clean Water Act they have the authority to do exactly as they propose. They have used the Clean Water Act sparingly since the 1970s to address development issues but not in Alaska in this manner. They are responding to very serious concerns by affected parties as to the potential impacts of this development. EPA action to consider local input is a good thing but in their approach, they are removing the rights of all Alaskans to consider a fully vetted process under NEPA.
This seemingly simple fact is the most troubling result of the EPA's action. I read their action as supporting the no development input they have received. They correctly state the extremely high value of the watershed as the basis of the action. However, there is no compelling reason or threat that requires the EPA to act now versus using a fully vetted NEPA process where the business proposes and all parties have input into the outcome.
Alaska needs responsible protection and development of our natural resources. The jury should still be hearing testimony as the Pebble proposal is designed. EPA is attempting to circumvent this process to the future detriment of Pebble and any other project that is a challenge to interested parties.
The EPA should continue to use NEPA and cease their action under the Clean Water Act in the best interest of the environment, development and all Alaskans.
David Wight is a guest member of the Daily News editorial board with 41 years in the energy business. He is former president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and serves on various community boards from Providence Alaska Medical Center to the Nature Conservancy. He wrote this in response to the Daily News editorial of March 4.
By DAVID WIGHT