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 allows it to then judge whether the project meets the pre-determined 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.
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 Alaskan operational jobs each paying in excess of $100,000 annually.
This is 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.
To be perfectly clear, Alaska has neither endorsed nor opposed the Pebble project, nor should we until we have all of the facts, but the facts will only surface through data gathered through the permitting process. We have successfully attracted several large-scale resource projects in the past that have added greatly to the private sector of Alaska's economy. Every one of these projects was allowed to, and required to, submit its project through our comprehensive permitting process. Why should the Pebble prospect not proceed through 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 which would be of great importance to comparable 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 project 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." Yet, the company feels compelled to walk away from over $541 million that they have already invested into this Pebble project! I am afraid Alaska has sent the wrong message and Anglo American's response has been just as clear.
We either honor and trust our permitting system or rely upon the whim of the day. If I am asked to make an important policy decision such as Pebble, I would base that decision on science and facts rather than rely upon innuendo, mass-media advertising or political posturing.
What is surprising is the major labor and business organizations of Alaska are not speaking up. If Alaskans truly want to diversify our economy and quit relying solely upon the petroleum industry and government for creation of jobs, we need to create and maintain a healthy climate for attracting capital investments. A stable, transparent, coherent permitting process is the cornerstone of such a climate.
No one, including myself, wants to jeopardize our world-class fishery, but in order to truly understand the impact on this treasured fishery, science is essential to guide us. If we believe there are ways to improve the permitting process, then we should implement such improvements. However, Alaskans should not be afraid, and should insist that our permitting process not be short-circuited. Our economic future, and that of Alaska, will depend upon it.
Mike Dunleavy is an Alaska state senator representing the Matanuska-Susitna Valley as a Republican.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.