The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Pebble Project Feb. 20, as part of its thorough and transparent project review established upon receiving the permit application in late 2017.
No surprise, the same groups that, prior to its release, said the DEIS would not be comprehensive enough, immediately responded with complaints that the document was too lengthy (incorrectly citing hundreds of thousands of pages) and that the 90-day comment period would be inadequate for the public to provide comment. These groups have asked for a staggering 270-day comment window, a classic delaying tactic used by organizations to slow down permitting of development projects.
I want to thank the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, an organization of member companies that depend on the success of mining and oil and gas projects for their livelihoods, for calling attention to this in a recent Anchorage Daily News opinion piece.
The real story: the Corps has tried to run an objective and efficient process from the beginning. The agency’s efforts to establish a project schedule with clear timelines and responsibilities for all stakeholders at the start of the process should be applauded, not questioned or criticized. And it absolutely should be upheld and not treated differently just because the project is controversial.
As our members know, a DEIS is a draft look at a project that prompts extensive public review and participation. The Pebble DEIS is approximately 1,400 pages, excluding appendices, with an 80-page Executive Summary. The Corps noted that a 45-day comment window would be the norm for a project like this. However, because it recognized the Pebble Project would require additional public scrutiny, it established a 90-day public comment window—double what is required.
This is normal and standard permitting review. For comparison, here are several examples of public comment windows for projects in Alaska that fostered extensive public participation with comparable timelines:
• 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, 1506 pages.
• Red Dog Aqqaluk Expansion (2008): 60 days, no extension, 464 pages.
It is my hope that the Corps will uphold its outlined process and accept public comments through the established May 30, 2019 deadline.
The AMA Federal Oversight Committee is currently reviewing the document, in preparation for both our Association comments and to provide our members with information so that you may submit comments on behalf of yourselves individually or on behalf of your business. We’ll be distributing Action Alerts frequently on both comment development and for your help at the public meetings held through mid-April, including the hearing in Anchorage on April 16.
Speaking of asking for your help, I want to take a moment to thank our members for your recent participation in the hearings in Anchorage and Fairbanks on drilling in the Coastal Plain portion of ANWR. This isn’t “our” issue per se – but still is one we have supported for a long time from the standpoint of supporting other industries and development projects that are good for Alaska. More than 20 of our members attended those hearings and testified in support. This is why AMA has such a good reputation of rallying to support on an issue, and I am so proud of that reputation and our members.
Stay tuned for exciting updates on the Pebble Project review process. Thank you!