Governor says Alaska miners under siege

Posted: Friday, March 12, 2010

FAIRBANKS - Gov. Sean Parnell said miners face an uphill battle against federal regulators, and his office is "fighting with everything we've got" against the feds and "overzealous" environmental groups.

Federal regulations have been a frequent Parnell target during his first year in office. In a speech before the Alaska Miners Association on Wednesday, Parnell expressed disdain for regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

"The media's been so focused on health care and what Congress has been doing there, the agencies have been very busy exerting their regulatory authority to extend reviews, to change regulatory structures," Parnell told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner after the speech.

The classification of endangered species is another topic Parnell returned to Wednesday.

Parnell said the state is "barraged" by proposals to list new species under the Endangered Species Act, most of which he called unwarranted or not based on science. Last fall, Parnell increased the amount of money Alaska spends to fight "misuses" of the act.

"I basically told my attorney general, 'We're gong to fight every Endangered Species Act listing where we have a reason to do so' - where our jobs are at stake, where our economy's at stake," he said afterward.

Parnell gave his 20-minute speech at the Westmark Hotel in Fairbanks, where the industry group was holding its biennial conference.

Parnell noted that the Alaska attorney general's office has filed for a motion to intervene in a Nevada lawsuit on mining regulations.

Several conservation groups and a Shoshone tribal organization filed a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture in October. The case is fighting regulations passed several years ago that loosened limits on waste dumping and use of public land.

"That could have a severe impact on thousands of mining claims," Parnell said.

The governor did not say whether he was for the controversial Pebble Mine project near Lake Iliamna. But he said the state's permitting process was sufficient to determine whether the project should move forward.

"We're never going to allow a mine that trades the future one resource for another," Parnell said. "However, neither will we be bullied into denying a project before the permitting process has run its course."

A member of the audience asked Parnell about the effectiveness of a recent settlement between Pebble Mine adversary Bob Gillam and the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Gillam was accused of illegally funneling money into ad campaigns. He settled with APOC for $100,000 and no admission of guilt by any party.

"I think it would deter those who think $100,000 is a lot of money," Parnell said. "And to those who it's not, it probably won't."

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