GUEST COMMENTARY: 90 days is plenty of time to review Pebble EIS
Some may find it easy to pile on to the Pebble mine just because it has the perception of controversy. However, just because a project is perceived as controversial does not make it OK to change the norms of review and process.
This causes all within the regulated resource community alarm and concern because a well-established process demonstrates stability and stability is the lifeblood of investment. Organizations that want to see Alaska’s economy grow have long been on record in support of fair, stable, consistent and due process for all projects in Alaska.
Sen. Dan Sullivan and President Donald Trump have made permitting reform top priorities, calling the current permitting process “broken” and reform “long overdue.” Sen. Sullivan has taken a lead on this by speaking out against delay tactics that abuse the National Environmental Policy Act and by pushing legislation to establish time limits on federal permit reviews.
Recently, several groups have called upon the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to slow down the review process for the Pebble Project’s “lengthy” draft Environmental Impact Statement.
This is a classic delay tactic deployed whenever a government agency is following the normal regulatory path for a project.
It is called “slow rolling,” and in Alaska, this has traditionally been used by environmental organizations to slow down progress being made on resource development projects. As many in the business community understand, delay costs projects time and money.
Prior to the release of the Pebble Project draft EIS, some were saying the document would not be comprehensive enough. Well, that argument went out the window the moment the document was published. The draft EIS for Pebble is about 1,400 pages, with an 80-page executive summary and another 1,600 pages of appendices. This places it at just a little above the norm for a draft EIS review document for a resource project in Alaska.
Then there is the question of whether a 90-day review is an adequate amount of time for the public to review 1,400 pages, with the caveat that most members of the public tend to read through the executive summary. In the case of the Pebble DEIS, that is about 80 pages. To put this in perspective, here are some recent public comment windows:
• ANWR Coastal Plain Leasing (2018): 45 days, extended by 30 days, 392 pages.
• Tongass Timber Sale on Prince of Wales Island (2018): 45 days, no extension, 408 pages.
• Oil Search Nanushuk Project: 45 days, extended by 30 days, 1,191 pages.
• Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline Project (2017): 45 days, extended by 15 days, 1,822 pages.
• Chukchi Sea OCS Oil and Gas Lease Sale 193 (2014): 45 days, no extension, 694 pages.
• Point Thomson (2011): 45 days, extended by 15 days, 1,506 pages.
• Red Dog Aqqaluk Expansion (2008): 60 days, no extension, 464 pages.
In looking at the projects noted, the Pebble draft EIS 90-day comment window is actually longer than all of them. Three months to read, review and comment on the Pebble draft EIS is more than adequate.
Surprisingly, some groups are pushing for a 270-day comment window for the Pebble draft EIS. Those of us in the resource development community know nine months will not improve the public’s opportunity for comment; rather, this will slow down Pebble’s progress and let national environmental groups like the Natural Resource Defense Council continue to flood the comment ballot box via electronic post cards.
Comment window extensions beyond the norm only serve to further Alaska’s reputation as a state with great resource potential challenged by regulatory instability.
If Alaska wants the resource investment community to know it is open for business, holding firm on reasonable regulatory actions is a good place to start.
Rebecca Logan is the CEO of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance.