ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will dedicate more staffing and funding to help Alaska's mining and oil and gas sectors navigate the maze of government permitting, according to the agency's regional administrator.
John Iani said it's a part of the agency's effort to improve relations with the regulated community.
Iani heads the EPA's Seattle office, which oversees environmental compliance in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho. He spoke Thursday at the Resource Development Council's 29th annual meeting.
"We've tried to beef up our ability to be responsive," Iani said.
During his three years as regional administrator, he said, he's tried to put the EPA on the front end of development projects so that operators know from the start what their obligations are in complying with environmental laws. He said he's also tried to stress a collaborative approach because business owners often know better than permit writers how best to meet federal environmental standards.
"It's up to the regulators to understand that one size doesn't fit all" as far as permits go, Iani said.
His remarks were welcomed by Alaska industry representatives.
"That's the way permitting should be done," said Steve Borell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association. "The issues need to be on the table early."
In the past, EPA officials too often have sprung surprises on operators after they have gone forward with design and construction of mines, Borell said. Lately, they've gotten better, he said, particularly at Pogo and Kensington, two big gold projects in the works in the Interior and Southeast.
Iani said he plans to dedicate more EPA resources to Alaska's oil and gas and mining industries so that projects can move along promptly. He said he knows that Alaska's mining industry, in particular, is undergoing a resurgence of activity, given high metal prices and other factors.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to keep pace," Iani said.
"This state is blessed with natural resources, and those resources need to be extracted," he said.
Before Iani spoke, his boss, EPA administrator Mike Leavitt, addressed the audience from Washington, D.C., by way of an Internet hookup. The former Utah governor had planned to attend but was called back to Washington to attend memorial services for the President Ronald Reagan.
Leavitt, who visited Alaska during the week, said he was impressed by cutting-edge technology he saw at the Prudhoe Bay oil field and the Red Dog zinc mine.