Palin, select lawmakers meet with Pebble Mine officials

Parnell certifies initiative for water-quality standards

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Some state lawmakers took a break from the governor's oil and gas bill Monday to discuss another resource: metals.

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Executives from owners of the proposed Pebble Mine project visited Gov. Sarah Palin and select lawmakers to discuss their plans for the controversial mine.

Anglo American Chief Executive Cynthia Carroll met with Palin, who is in Juneau while the Legislature reviews her request for an oil tax increase.

Separately on Monday, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell certified an initiative related to water quality standards on new large-scale mining operations.

The Renewable Resources Coalition wants to collect 23,831 petition signatures for voters to decide on restricting large scale mining and the pollutant discharge.

Parnell had rejected previous applications, but last week, a Superior Court judge ruled the initiative could move forward for voter consideration.

The mining project sits near one of the world's most productive wild sockeye fisheries near Bristol Bay and also is considered a world-class deposit for copper and gold.

This scenario has driven a wedge between those seeking economic development in villages sorely needing a boost and conservationists and the fisheries community looking to protect its waters.

"The governor made a point of reminding them that we do have a high standard to protect our fisheries," Palin assistant Joe Balash said after the meeting. "They acknowledged that they understand it and are prepared to make the challenge."

Company officials then met with a few key Republican lawmakers, including Majority Leader Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, who represents area villages split on the mine. The company has not submitted a formal permit, but both sides are waging a media image war years ahead of any production.

"It's an emotional issue: whether you're going to mine and damage the fishery or mine or whether you're going to develop jobs," Stevens said.

London-based mining giant Anglo American recently joined forces with Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. in a 50-50 joint venture to develop the mine near Bristol Bay. Anglo American has pledged to provide $1.4 billion in financing.

Carroll discussed the company's willingness to be thorough with its permit applications rather than rush into the project with increasing promise, Stevens said. Carroll was not immediately available for comment.

The company estimates one of the Pebble deposits has 42.6 billion pounds of copper, 39.6 million ounces of gold, and 2.7 billion pounds of molybdenum, which is used to strengthen metal.

Company officials said production could begin as late as 2016, Stevens said, bringing up another issue.

"It doesn't seem to me that the state gets much out of mining," Stevens said. "We need to look at that. If this is a gazillion dollar mine that's going to last for 100 years, then we need to make sure we get something out of it as a state just as we do with oil."

Among the few key Republicans initially invited to meet with Carroll were House Speaker John Harris of Valdez and Senate President Lyda Green.

No Democrats were invited, including Minority Leader Beth Kerttula of Juneau, and Rep. Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, whose district includes Pebble Mine area. Also not invited was Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, a Kodiak Republican who also represents part of Bristol Bay.

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