State seeks public comment on permitting

State of Alaska agencies in the departments of Natural Resources, Fish and Game and Environmental Conservation  are continuing to collect public input on a Permitting Initiative to review and streamline the current state permitting process used for development of both small and large resource development projects, including mining. The proposed Pebble Mine is one of many projects that could be affected by any changes to the state’s processes and interactions with federal agencies.

Pebble Watch team members attended an October 13 meeting in Anchorage, one of eight scheduled public forums. Representatives from state agencies gave brief presentations about the permitting process and took 12 formal public comments from individuals and organizations.

No meetings have been scheduled yet for the Bristol Bay region. However, any member of the public  may participate by webinar for the October 27 Bethel forum, or visit the state’s Permitting Initiative web page to review information and submit comments. Comments received by the start of the next legislative session (January 17, 2012) would be especially appreciated. (See “How to Submit Your Comments” at the end of this article.)

During the public comment period, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO John Shively was among those who spoke. He said he gave his comments as an individual and provided specific suggestions for improving the permitting process. Author Tim Troll presented highlights from the Nushagak-Mulchatna Watershed Council’s draft “Standards and Practices for Responsible Mining.”

Common themes during additional public comments called for state agencies to: 

  • Eliminate redundancy, removing outdated stipulations and citations from permits.
  • Streamline the process across agencies so that developers can enter basic information once rather than repeating the process for multiple applications.­­­­
  • Ensure the public knows about and has input into potential projects from the beginning.
  • Emphasize “if” a project should be considered before asking “how” it can be developed.

Points brought out in the agency presentations included:

  • Annual permit applications are increasing in number and complexity, requiring more resources.
  • Cuts in federal funding and travel budgets have affected agencies’ ability to monitor compliance for existing permits.
  • State agencies are implementing automation procedures, including online permit applications in certain areas; this should free up staff to get in the field and make inspections.
  • Litigation is costing the state money and time. One recent lawsuit cost $1 million plus six months of staff time for two to three employees.
  • Members of the newly formed President’s Working Group on Arctic Permitting have been consulting with State of Alaska agencies for ideas on improving coordination efforts.

How to submit your comments:

Visit the Permitting Initiative web page to find an upcoming meeting or to submit your comments online.

DNR Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels noted there is currently no deadline for submitting comments, but the state agencies are hoping to receive feedback in time for the next legislative session in the event that they need to suggest changes to current legislation as a part of their efforts. The next legislative session begins on January 17, 2012.