Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Murkowski to Pebble: What’s the Plan?

Companies seeking to develop a massive copper, gold and molybdenum prospect near the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed are getting called on the carpet by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who wants to know just what their plan is.

In a letter addressed to top officials of the Pebble Limited Partnership, and its joint venture partners, Anglo American Plc and Northern Dynasty Minerals, the Alaska Republican said they should detail their proposed plans to develop the massive deposit in Southwest Alaska.

Murkowski’s comments were directed toward the PLP’s timeline for releasing a project description and submitting permit applications for development of the Pebble deposit.

“As you know, in anticipation of PLP taking these actions, I have been and remain neutral on potential development in this area,” Murkowski said in the letter to chief executive officers John Shively, of the Pebble Partnership in Anchorage; Mark Cutifani, of London-based Anglo American, and Ron Thiessen, of Northern Dynasty Minerals, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

To that end, Murkowski said, she has encouraged all stakeholders to withhold judgment until a project description is released, permit applications filed, and all relevant analyses completed.  Murkowski has also opposed the prospect of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employing Section 404© of the Clean Water Act to veto development of the mine.

These comments, by Murkowski, are really overdue, said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, who noted that Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, also recently urged the EPA to complete its Bristol Bay watershed assessment.

“Let’s get this on the road,” Waldrop said. “Pebble has been telling us for six years now that next year they’re going to have a mine plan. Clearly they have something in mind, or they wouldn’t have said next year six times.” 

This underlines the need for the EPA to act fast, “and once we get a final watershed assessment, once we see Pebble’s plan, then we can have a public discussion on whether we should have a mine there,” Waldrop said. “That seems to me to be the logical process that both Murkowski and Begich are pushing.”

Pebble Limited Partnership spokesperson, John Shively, said he hopes to get a response to Murkowski within the next couple of weeks.

A lot of the pressure that backers of the mine are getting is coming from the opposition, and it would clearly be in their best interest to come out with the project before it is completely designed, he said.

Murkowski’s request is a reasonable request, Shively said. “We would like to be in permitting by the end of this year. If we can be permitting by the end of this year, we will be.”

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