Politics & Government

Scope of Alaska legislature's Pebble Mine study is undetermined

Months after the funding was approved, state legislators still haven't decided how to proceed with a study of the proposed Pebble copper and gold mine.

The Legislative Council -- put in charge of the project -- remains in a muddle about what questions should be asked about Pebble. Some legislators aren't convinced a study is a good idea at this time.

If built, Pebble would be one of the country's biggest mines, employing hundreds of people for decades. But the project is hugely controversial among fishermen, Native villagers and environmentalists because of its massive size and its location in the headwaters of two of the five major rivers that feed Bristol Bay's world-class salmon runs.

Gov. Sean Parnell this year approved $750,000 for the proposed Pebble study after legislators inserted the funding in last year's nearly $3 billion capital spending budget. The line item calls for "an independent third-party scientific and multidisciplinary study of the potential large mine development" but it doesn't offer any other specifics.

House Speaker Mike Chenault said he thinks launching a study now might put "the cart before the horse" because the companies exploring Pebble haven't published any of their plans. Chenault, R-Nikiski, chaired a Legislative Council subcommittee hearing about the proposed study on Thursday in Anchorage.

But legislators who favor a study, including Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, and Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, believe that third-party scientists could bring some valuable insights to the debate over Pebble and make sure good questions are asked during the permitting process.

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