It is expected that the permitting process for the proposed Pebble mine would take about three to four years. Developers would need dozens of separate permits (local, state and federal) to begin construction and operation of a large-scale mine in Bristol Bay. The state of Alaska Large Mine Permitting Team coordinates state permits. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be the lead agency to write an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to assess risk of the development.
An EIS is required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for any project that might significantly affect the environment. An EIS is a decision-making tool. It lays out both positive and negative environmental effects of a proposed action. Every EIS includes alternative actions, including the impact of a “no action alternative.”
Pebble Watch will post permitting status information as it becomes available. Current resources include our Permitting Timeline, a broad picture of the project history, permitting period and construction/development window. Our Guide to Permitting links to relevant agencies, and lists major and minor permits that are likely to be required to advance the Pebble project.
Some of the necessary permits offer public comment periods. Pebble Watch will track and post these as they are scheduled.
Permitting for Pebble: What is the permitting process? Where is the mine plan? How can members of the public give input? Pebble Watch interviews Pebble Limited Partnership’s Mike Heatwole and Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Sharon Stambaugh for the details.
How true are statements you may hear about permitting large mines in Alaska? Pebble Watch addresses three frequent claims:
Alaska is viewed in a negative light by the industry because of its regulatory process and length of time for getting permits.
A January 2012 report on “The Economic Impacts of Alaska’s Mining Industry,” reports 81 significant exploration projects in Alaska in 2010. Thirty-four of these each had expenditures of more than $1 million. Most of this exploration funding came from Canadian and other international sources.
And the Fraser Institute’s 2011/2012 survey of 802 mining companies around the world ranked Alaska in the top 25 for “policy potential,” or how well different factors encourage investment. Factors included in the survey were: existing regulations; environmental regulations; regulatory duplication and inconsistencies; taxation; uncertainty concerning native land claims and protected areas; infrastructure; socioeconomic agreements; political stability; labor issues; geological database; security; and corruption.
In the same report, a consultant company is quoted saying, “Alaska, during transition to statehood, settled all native land claims. The resulting land tenure certainty and entrepreneurial native corporations have given Alaska stability that neighbouring provinces can only dream of.”
Once the permitting process has begun, the state of Alaska has never before rejected a large mining project.
But it’s more complicated than that, says Sharmon Stambaugh, large mine project coordinator for the Alaska DNR. “We say no all the time. We make people go back to the drawing board, modify this, review that, flesh this part out. Sometimes what happens is that the applicant says ‘No’ itself. For example, the Alaska-Juneau gold mine project in Southeast was never permitted because there were so many aspects of that project that didn’t prove to be viable.”
The permitting process is open-ended and “iterative,” so a developer can continue to submit changes to get to a plan that meets all regulatory requirements. It is likely that Pebble developers will go forward with multiple revisions to get the permits they need. At its essence, this claim suggests that once Pebble permitting begins, the state will approve the necessary state permits. This quote from the PBS Frontline documentary Alaska Gold seems to back that up:
“If the company … can show that water quality will be protected and that air quality will be protected and the fish and wildlife resource will be protected … essentially they’re due a permit.”
Alaska DNR deputy commissioner Ed Fogels
Alaska has the world’s most stringent regulatory system.
MAYBE, BUT NEEDS BACK UP
This statement can be used as an assurance that the regulatory process is more protective in Alaska than anywhere else, but it is difficult to find research or comparisons that back up this claim.
According to Sharmon Stambaugh, of Alaska DNR, the state does differ from other areas, especially in terms of water quality standards. “A lot of states rely on federal standards, but because Alaska protects most of its water for all uses, including aquatic life, it has set very stringent state standards.” Stambaugh said the permitting process is more complex due to factors such as land-ownership, endangered/threatened species, anadromous sh, and issues with access to sites. Once a site opens, there are permit- required environmental audits every five years. “To our knowledge, these environmental audits are not generally standard requirements in other jurisdictions,” said Stambaugh.
But does that mean Alaska has the world’s most stringent standards? It’s unclear until a factual comparison is conducted.