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Pebble: Rep. Josephson needs to visit site before replaying misleading rhetoric

  • Author: Mark Hamilton
    | Opinion
  • Updated: April 25
  • Published April 25

A Pebble Partnership office in Iliamna in April, 2016. KDLG photo

I respectfully disagree with Rep. Josephson's recent opinion piece about the Pebble mining prospect that is full of misleading and inaccurate claims. Because he is in session, he may not have had the benefit of the most up-to-date information about the project.

He goes to great length to suggest that the state of Alaska needs to participate in Pebble permitting and quotes from a February hearing to make this point. It is nothing more than political sophistry designed to obscure the normal process. Since that hearing and not because of it, the Army Corps of Engineers, following normal procedure, has reached out to the multitude of regulatory agencies responsible for reviewing Pebble about their interest in reviewing Pebble's plan. The state of Alaska is a cooperating agency, along with several federal agencies, the local borough and tribal governments.

Rep. Josephson makes the claim that scientific evidence shows the project is risky. This refers to the Environmental Protection Agency's Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, a hastily crafted desktop survey of the region developed for the sole purpose of allowing the EPA to take an unprecedented pre-emptive action to stop Pebble before it could enter permitting. The U.S. House Science Committee
put it best in 2017, noting that EPA's actions were rife with misconduct and "determined that the preemptive action taken for the Pebble Mine Project was unprecedented under the Clean Water Act and was justified by a questionable scientific assessment that relied on predetermined conclusions developed by EPA officials."

Rep. Josephson says we are continuing to advance our project while ignoring Alaskans. I disagree and will remind the representative what I said in front of his committee outlining changes we have made to the project in direct response to things we heard from Alaskans. Among the more noteworthy: no cyanide
for gold recovery; enhanced safeguards for our tailings facility; presenting an overall smaller, more compact mine plan with no major mine infrastructure in the Upper Talarik Creek drainage; and looking at a range of initiatives to help share the opportunity from the project with residents of the region, including extra capacity in our energy infrastructure to potentially share gas or electricity, should there be interest within Southwest Alaska communities.
This is not ignoring; it is listening and changing.

Pebble has initiated the intensive National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process for the project. Whatever one's views about Pebble development, most Alaskans agree the project should be afforded a fair and rigorous process — one based on a real project with volumes of technical information and not the hypothetical construct from the EPA. This NEPA process is hailed from all quarters, including national environmental groups opposed to all development in Alaska who call NEPA the "Magna Carta" of environmental law. Pebble is not seeking special treatment, just fair treatment, via this review process.
Rep. Josephson says we have a track record of not finishing what we started. Not only is this factually wrong, but I also take personal offense on behalf of the hardworking staff at our site operation who take their jobs seriously. We have done everything asked of us by the state Department of Natural Resources and then some. We have been inspected 57 times since 2003 and have never had a serious issue. While there was no justification for the state taking the step to ask for a bond, it has the legal authority to take this step and we agreed.

Our exploration work at the Pebble site is in line with accepted industry and state of Alaska standards. Statements to contrary are either misinformed or intentionally misleading.

Rep. Josephson claims we do not understand the science or the economics of the region. Perhaps he can take us up on our offer to visit the region to learn firsthand about the project. We take our commitment to presenting a responsible plan of development seriously and have backed this talk with an extensive amount of engineering, environmental and technical information, including investing more than $150 million dollars on environmental studies alone.

Additionally, those painting the Southwest Alaska economy as robust must be looking at a different data set than we are. The communities around Iliamna Lake face many socioeconomic challenges. Whether Pebble can play an important role in the future of the region is an issue Alaskans will continue to discuss.

The one thing Rep. Josephson and I can agree upon is the importance of participating in all public comment opportunities for the project. Currently, the project is in the scoping process — a process for the public to tell the Army Corps of Engineers what issues should be within the "scope" of their review.
I will conclude by publicly reiterating my offer to Rep. Josephson that he considers me a resource for timely information about the project. I think it would be time better spent than composing uninformed rants about our project.

Mark Hamilton is president emeritus of the University of Alaska and a retired major general, U.S. Army. He currently serves as executive vice president of external affairs for the Pebble Limited Partnership.

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