Opponents of mining projects are gathering voter signatures on petitions to try to place an anti-mining initiative on the 2008 Alaska state ballot.
“Promoters of this initiative want the public to think it would only apply to the potential Pebble Project, but it’s a deceptive and drastic proposal that could shut down all existing major metal mines in Alaska and prohibit any new ones,” said Karl Hanneman, President of the Council of Alaska Producers.
Hanneman said the initiative is so broad and badly written that it would affect all major metal mines both existing and future on state, federal, university, borough, and Native land. He warned its provisions would effectively prohibit the operation of any major mineral mines, even if they comply with all existing state and federal environmental regulations. For example, the fine print in the initiative would prohibit the operation of any major metal mine over 640 acres if it creates any waste rock or tailings.
“It is impossible for any mine to operate without creating waste rock or tailings,” Hanneman pointed out.
The anti-mining initiative is not required to ensure clean water and its effects are not limited just to future mines. The provisions of the initiative would prohibit any water discharge from a major metal mine even if it meets ex-isting water quality standards.
Promoters of the initiative claim it exempts mines that have “all their permits.” But Hanneman explained that working mines need to get new permits and permit renewals on a regular basis.
“Working mines never have ‘all’ the permits they will ever need,” Hanneman said.
Lt. Governor Sean Parnell and Richard Mylius, Director of the Alaska Division of Mining, Land and Water, have formally reviewed the initiative. They both concluded it would prohibit the potential Donlin Creek and Pebble projects and all other future major metal mines and could force the shutdown of existing mines.
Meanwhile, two prominent Native organizations, the Association of ANCSA Regional Corporation Presidents and CEOs and the Alaska Federation of Natives, are suing the State to stop certification of the initiative, alleging it violates the Alaska Constitution. The groups allege the initiative violates federal law because it would prevent Native corporations from developing their mineral resources.
Steve Borell, Executive Director of the Alaska Miners Association, noted the initiative threatens thousands of existing and future jobs and up to $10 billion in state revenues.
“It would be devastating to mining employees and their families, to local businesses that provide goods and services to Alaska mines, and to many communities near mining projects especially in rural areas of Alaska where there are few job opportunities,” Borell said. He noted that a fiscal impact assessment issued by the Department of Natural Resources estimates the state would lose up to $10 billion or more in revenues if the initiative passes.
“The anti-mining initiative undermines a fair and open environmental review and permitting process,” Borell warned, pointing out that Alaska’s metal mines already have to meet strict state and federal environmental laws and regulations.
“There is already a rigorous state and federal permitting process,” Borell explained. “Most of us would agree that a decision on whether to prohibit or allow a mining project should not be made until all necessary environmental studies have been completed. Each project should be judged on its own merits. But the anti-mining initiative would arbitrarily prohibit mining projects statewide and shut down mines without any environmental review process and without any scientific evaluation of whether a mine project actually would harm the environment.”
Borell and Hanneman are urging Alaskans to help stop the initiative by not signing it and by talking with family and friends.