Alaska lawmakers debate planned Pebble mine study

Posted: Tuesday, November 02, 2010

ANCHORAGE - State lawmakers are still undecided about the scope and timing of a $750,000 study of the proposed Pebble copper and gold mine in Southwest Alaska.

The Anchorage Daily News reports a Legislative Council subcommittee discussed the study Thursday at a meeting in Anchorage without making a decision.

House Speaker Mike Chenault of Nikiski says the study should wait until the companies exploring Pebble publish their plans.

Two lawmakers who favor the study, Rep. Alan Austerman of Kodiak and Rep. Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, say independent scientists could make sure the right questions are asked in the permit process.

If built, Pebble would be one of the country's biggest mines, employing hundreds of people for decades. But some fishermen, Native villagers and environmentalists fear the mine would threaten Bristol Bay salmon runs because of its location in the headwaters of two of the five major rivers.

The study appropriation approved by Gov. Sean Parnell in last year's budget calls for "an independent third-party scientific and multidisciplinary study of the potential large mine development."

Austerman and others have suggested that the study be run by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

Two business groups, the Alaska Miners Association and the Resource Development Council, have criticized the proposed study as ill-defined and unfair in targeting one mine.

The companies that hope to develop Pebble have said they plan to publish an environmental analysis at the end of this year. The companies plan to publish a study assessing Pebble's technical and economic aspects in the second half of 2011 and start applying for development permits.

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