Legislature(1999 - 2000)

04/09/1999 01:12 PM RES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SCR 7 - TULSEQUAH CHIEF MINE                                                                                                    
[Contains discussion of HCR 4.  Extensive testimony on HCR 4, the                                                               
companion resolution, had been heard by the committee on March 26.]                                                             
CO-CHAIR OGAN brought before the committee CS for Senate Concurrent                                                             
Resolution No. 7(RES), supporting the responsible development of                                                                
the Tulsequah Chief Mine through the cooperative effort of Alaska                                                               
and British Columbia and urging Governor Knowles to withdraw his                                                                
request for a referral of the Tulsequah Chief Mine to the                                                                       
International Joint Commission under the Boundary Waters Treaty.                                                                
Number 0064                                                                                                                     
SENATOR DRUE PEARCE, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor of SCR 7,                                                                
came forward.  She told members the Knowles Administration has                                                                  
asked the State Department to elevate questions about the                                                                       
permitting process for the Tulsequah Chief Mine to the                                                                          
International Joint Commission (IJC).  Previously known as the                                                                  
International Joint Boundary Commission, it originated in 1908 and                                                              
over the years has had a fairly strict definition of its actions in                                                             
law.  The IJC process has traditionally been used to resolve                                                                    
large-scale transboundary issues between Canada and the United                                                                  
States, such as cleaning up the Great Lakes.  It was not intended                                                               
back in 1908 as a political instrument to resolve minor disputes on                                                             
a project-by-project basis.                                                                                                     
SENATOR PEARCE told members, "I was talking to our senior Senator                                                               
yesterday, and he expressed his concern about the IJC and their                                                                 
interest in expanding their traditional role and function."  She                                                                
told members that there has been coordinated opposition by                                                                      
environmental groups, which she believes to be the primary                                                                      
proponents of IJC intervention on both sides of the border.  She                                                                
then stated:                                                                                                                    
     We believe their agenda is to place a development moratorium                                                               
     on the entire Taku River watershed, thereby stopping any                                                                   
     development in the Taku region; and, in fact, they have stated                                                             
     that they are interested in wilderness designation for the                                                                 
     whole Taku River watershed.  The same organizations have been                                                              
     successful in convincing ... our state Administration to                                                                   
     request IJC intervention to further the goal, and the IJC is                                                               
     currently laying groundwork to create something called an                                                                  
     international watershed management board that would allow the                                                              
     appointed body - and these are appointed folks, they're not                                                                
     elected - to oversee all development on all transboundary                                                                  
     watersheds. ...                                                                                                            
     When you look at the map, think of the impact that could have                                                              
     in our state, particularly if a boundary watershed management                                                              
     board decided to try to control the entire Yukon River                                                                     
     drainage.  In its report entitled, "The IJC in the 21st                                                                    
     Century," the International Joint Commission provides their                                                                
     vision of what the commission's role should be in the future.                                                              
     The report describes the strategy for increasing the influence                                                             
     of the IJC by, and I quote, in the report, they say themselves                                                             
     they want to creatively expand its traditional role and                                                                    
     function. ...                                                                                                              
     These international watershed boards for individual                                                                        
     transboundary rivers could have broad-reaching effects on our                                                              
     ability to manage our lands instate.  Lands included within                                                                
     transboundary watersheds encompass a large portion of Alaska                                                               
     - as I stated, the entire Yukon River drainage.  These lands                                                               
     would all fall subject to the developmental jurisdiction of                                                                
     the international watershed boards, comprised of appointed                                                                 
     bureaucrats from the United States and Canada; it's not even                                                               
     from Alaska and British Columbia, or the Yukon.                                                                            
     The implications of watershed board strategy are enormous, and                                                             
     the creation of the IJC boards would transfer control of land                                                              
     use decisions in resource management from state authority to                                                               
     a bi-national commission.  We believe that using the IJC                                                                   
     process to resolve the situation as it pertains to the                                                                     
     Tulsequah Mine is unwarranted and only serves to delay the                                                                 
     process.  My goal in introducing the resolution is to both                                                                 
     promote the environmentally responsible development of the                                                                 
     Tulsequah Chief Mine, but also to ask the Governor to remove                                                               
     the state's request for IJC referral.                                                                                      
     The permitting process that is being used for the mine is a                                                                
     permitting process that is under Canadian-British Columbia                                                                 
     permitting jurisdiction.  Mining permits in British Columbia                                                               
     have been handled in the same way, through an environmental                                                                
     assessment process that has been in place, for over 20 years.                                                              
     And while it is true that there is a new mining law - or a new                                                             
     law covering resource permits, or development permits - the                                                                
     mining portion of the new law is the same sort of process ...                                                              
     that has been in place for more than 20 years.                                                                             
     Under the process - that is similar to the one that they are                                                               
     undertaking for the Tulsequah - are mining projects that have                                                              
     been approved with potential transboundary impacts on Alaska,                                                              
     such as the Snip, the Johnny Mountain Mine on the tributary of                                                             
     the Stikine River, as well as the Eskay Creek Mine on the Unuk                                                             
     near Ketchikan.  All of those transboundary mining projects                                                                
     went through the environmental assessment process that is in                                                               
     place today, and none of those involved the International                                                                  
     Joint Commission.                                                                                                          
     The mine itself has already gone through extensive                                                                         
     environmental review, and will require more in-depth review                                                                
     scrutiny prior to issuance of the detailed permits.  They have                                                             
     a process that is much like our phasing process for our oil                                                                
     and gas leases.  I would maintain that an ... IJC referral                                                                 
     doesn't really solve anything.  The IJC simply makes                                                                       
     recommendations to the respective federal governments.  The                                                                
     experts that would be involved before the IJC are the same                                                                 
     experts that are already involved.  This only serves to delay                                                              
     the project, probably by at least two years, which causes                                                                  
     financial difficulties for the company that is trying to open                                                              
     the mine, and makes it impossible for them to get their                                                                    
     financing.  So, as you can see, Mr. Chairman, the real effort                                                              
     is to stop the project and further the effort to designate the                                                             
     watershed as wilderness.  And there's been a lot of                                                                        
     information - misinformation, I mean - about the project and                                                               
     about the facts of the process that has been followed to date.                                                             
Number 0661                                                                                                                     
     We had extensive testimony on the Senate side, in the Senate                                                               
     Resources Committee, particularly by both our DEC [Department                                                              
     of Environmental Conservation] and the fish and game                                                                       
     department, all of whom said that ... every concern that ...                                                               
     they had in November when they sent their last letter about                                                                
     the project has been taken care of, in a manner in which they                                                              
     believe it can be handled to everyone's satisfaction, by the                                                               
     response that they've had from the British Columbia people,                                                                
     who were actually here for the testimony.                                                                                  
     So, the resolution does two things.  It asks the Governor to                                                               
     remove his request for an IJC referral.  It also, furthermore,                                                             
     states on the record that the legislature is supportive of an                                                              
     environmentally responsible development, or redevelopment, of                                                              
     the Tulsequah Chief Mine; and this is in a mining area where                                                               
     mining was happening up until the 1950s.                                                                                   
     The reason we have a time constraint, Mr. Chairman:  The                                                                   
     meeting between Madeleine Albright of the Department of State                                                              
     and her counterpart in Canada - whose name, I apologize, I                                                                 
     don't know off the top of my head - will be happening next                                                                 
     week.  We would like to have a resolution passed by both                                                                   
     houses, to make sure that the State Department has it in hand                                                              
     before that meeting.                                                                                                       
Number 0806                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BARNES asked whether Senator Pearce has had any                                                                  
direct response from the Governor on SCR 7 since she introduced the                                                             
SENATOR PEARCE replied, "Yes, in Valdez, when the Governor and I                                                                
were both there for the tenth anniversary meetings held by the                                                                  
community college on the Exxon Valdez accident, the Governor asked                                                              
me what my intention was in having introduced the resolution.  And                                                              
I explained to him that I thought that ... we, the state of Alaska,                                                             
should not be asking for an IJC referral on this particular mine.                                                               
And he said, 'Well, we believe we have good reasons why we're doing                                                             
so.'  And I said, 'Fine, ... we'll be having an opportunity for the                                                             
people from the departments to come and say where they're at, what                                                              
seat at the table they have had on this mine, and so on and so                                                                  
forth.  I have not had further direct contact by the Governor's                                                                 
office since that; and that was the Governor himself."                                                                          
Number 0901                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BARNES said she had brought it up because she had                                                                
written a letter to the Governor on February 25, telling him that                                                               
before she made any public statement she would like an explanation                                                              
from him.  However, she had received no response.  She noted that                                                               
her staff had just distributed to members a copy of her letter.                                                                 
She said, "I think that the sooner that we pass this resolution,                                                                
the better off that we're all going to be."                                                                                     
Number 0992                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER stated that she is a supporter of mining,                                                                
which she believes is a valuable resource for employment, in both                                                               
Canada and Alaska.  However, she wanted to hear the sponsor's reply                                                             
to the assertions that this compromises Alaskan fishermen for the                                                               
sake of Canadians.                                                                                                              
SENATOR PEARCE responded:                                                                                                       
     Well, for Alaskan fishermen to be compromised for the sake of                                                              
     any miners, one has to believe that the permitting process is                                                              
     not thorough, and that the concerns that the state has put on                                                              
     the table will not be met.  I can say that, categorically,                                                                 
     when we had the testimony on the Senate side and had the                                                                   
     agency folks before us, they stated that each and every                                                                    
     concern that they had expressed to date, after three and a                                                                 
     half years of permitting process in the last 11 months of                                                                  
     at-the-table give-and-take, back and forth - and they said                                                                 
     that they were on the phone practically every day, back and                                                                
     forth to one another on an agency-to-agency basis - they could                                                             
     not identify any concern they had that they didn't think could                                                             
     be handled through the permitting process. ...                                                                             
     The B.C. folks have expressed interest in dealing with each                                                                
     and every one of our concerns, on an individual basis, because                                                             
     they, too, are concerned.  ... The fishing resource is shared                                                              
     up and down our trans-borders, by both B.C. and Alaskans, ...                                                              
     just as the Yukon [Territory] shares with us the resources of                                                              
     the Yukon River.  What happens downstream can affect the                                                                   
     fishermen on both sides, and what happens upstream can also do                                                             
     so.  But they have taken into account the concerns, including                                                              
     where the tailings pond was going to be; they have moved the                                                               
     actual location of that some number of miles, to an area that                                                              
     was ... less environmentally sensitive, and also where they                                                                
     were able to build  a dam that can withhold a 10,000-year                                                                  
     flood.  And ... they have been willing to adapt the permitting                                                             
     process to every single concern that our folks put forward.                                                                
     I won't speak for the Administration, but Mr. Conway [Michael                                                              
     Conway, Director, Division of Air and Water Quality, DEC], in                                                              
     his testimony at the Senate Resources Committee, in response                                                               
     to a direct question by Senator Halford, said that he did not                                                              
     see any concern that they had that couldn't be met through the                                                             
     process, and that the B.C. folks had not said that they were                                                               
     willing to work with us on.                                                                                                
     In some respects, the Canadian permitting process, while                                                                   
     different from ours, is more stringent, in that after they                                                                 
     actually give their permit and then do their ongoing                                                                       
     permitting, on a kind of a phasing basis, they also have,                                                                  
     after the fact, authority where they can come back and pull a                                                              
     permit without the sort of legal action that it takes in                                                                   
     Alaska for us to be able to do that.  They have an oversight                                                               
     process that is actually more stringent than ours.                                                                         
     But my primary point, if you'll let me digress just a little                                                               
     bit, Representative Kapsner, is:  We shouldn't be telling the                                                              
     Canadians that they have to use our process, which early on is                                                             
     what was happening; our agencies were saying, "Well, gee,                                                                  
     they're not permitting it the way we would; therefore, it                                                                  
     can't be good."  Nor should we expect that ... the Canadians,                                                              
     whether it be in the Yukon Territory, or British Columbia, or                                                              
     any other of the provinces, be able to tell us that we should                                                              
     model our permitting process after theirs, if it's another                                                                 
     transboundary development project.                                                                                         
Number 1278                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER asked what a 10,000-year flood is.                                                                       
SENATOR PEARCE replied:                                                                                                         
     When you design dams or other facilities, you design for                                                                   
     either a 100-year flood or ... some basis, amount, that you                                                                
     design for, that you can withstand.  A 100-year flood on, say,                                                             
     the Kuskokwim River, is what you would expect every hundred                                                                
     years, the worst flood in a hundred year[s].  The basis that                                                               
     they're using for their design on the holding dam for their                                                                
     tailings pond is, to me, a 10,000-year flood.  Quite frankly,                                                              
     if you go back 10,000 years or go forward 10,000 years, you                                                                
     probably run into an ice age before you run into the flood.                                                                
     But ... it's an occurrence that would happen - expected to                                                                 
     happen - only once in every 10,000 years.  That's an extreme                                                               
     standard to have to meet.                                                                                                  
Number 1347                                                                                                                     
CO-CHAIR OGAN referred to a concern raised at the previous House                                                                
Resources Standing Committee hearing on HCR 4, companion bill to                                                                
SCR 7.  Someone had testified that the legislature doesn't                                                                      
represent the Canadians, but rather the Alaskans who elected them.                                                              
Co-Chair Ogan asked Senator Pearce to put on the record why the                                                                 
state has a compelling interest in helping to permit a Canadian                                                                 
mine.  He clarified that the testifier had questioned the                                                                       
appropriateness of the legislature's dealing with this.                                                                         
SENATOR PEARCE replied:                                                                                                         
     Well, if it's inappropriate for the legislature to be dealing                                                              
     with it, then it should, by definition, be inappropriate for                                                               
     the Administration to be dealing with it and asking for an IJC                                                             
     referral.  But I think that we have every right to be                                                                      
     concerned about ... any development that could have an adverse                                                             
     effect on our resources.  And we should always be ...                                                                      
     vigilant, just as the Canadians should be vigilant as we are                                                               
     doing development, or as we should look to Eastern Siberia and                                                             
     be vigilant, or all of the other areas where we work to help                                                               
     with monitoring ... and other sorts of efforts, up and down                                                                
     the coast.                                                                                                                 
     Having said that, my concern here is that, in asking for an                                                                
     IJC referral and clearly buying into a commission that says                                                                
     itself, in its latest document talking about the twenty-first                                                              
     century, the IJC, which is a non-elected body of bureaucrats,                                                              
     say that they want to creatively expand their traditional role                                                             
     and function.  I find that troubling, because their creatively                                                             
     expanding their role and function is going to mean they're                                                                 
     doing that to us, along our boundaries, because we do share a                                                              
     very large portion of the boundary with Canada and the United                                                              
     States.  And so, I think this is another way to try to lock up                                                             
     more lands in Alaska, and that concerns me greatly ....                                                                    
     I am absolutely convinced that sometime in my lifetime we are                                                              
     going to be permitting exploration in the Arctic National                                                                  
     Wildlife Refuge.  I don't want an International Joint                                                                      
     Commission to decide they're going to set the permitting                                                                   
     process for that area, and I think we should be very concerned                                                             
     about taking this precedent, which hasn't been done on any of                                                              
     the other transboundary mines in Southeast Alaska.  So, I'm                                                                
     more concerned about the bigger picture and what happens in                                                                
     the future, once we do this precedent.                                                                                     
     I also, Mr. Chairman, as the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 308                                                              
     when we passed it - which put the phasing permitting into                                                                  
     effect for the oil and gas industry in Alaska - believe that                                                               
     that same sort of phasing process can work with mines.  And                                                                
     that's the kind of process that the B.C. folks have in place.                                                              
Number 1569                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BARNES stated:                                                                                                   
     Not only ... was our Governor the person that asked ...,                                                                   
     through Madeleine Albright, that these folks intervene in this                                                             
     mine, but we were asked, through a letter from the folks in                                                                
     Canada, to please ask our Governor to back off; we were                                                                    
     specifically asked to come in and work with them on getting                                                                
     this mine permitted.  And I think not only is this resolution                                                              
     appropriate for the legislature, but we deal on an                                                                         
     international level all the time because of our borders and of                                                             
     our future.  And so, ... I can't imagine why anyone would                                                                  
     think that we shouldn't be, especially when our Governor was                                                               
     the one that caused it to happen to begin with.                                                                            
Number 1640                                                                                                                     
SENATOR PEARCE said:                                                                                                            
     The deputy premier and the minister of mines - whose portfolio                                                             
     is larger than just mining - for British Columbia is the                                                                   
     member of the assembly from Prince Rupert.  The Prince Rupert                                                              
     delegation at last year's Southeast Conference - and they've                                                               
     now come to Juneau at least two years in a row to try to                                                                   
     develop a relationship with the Alaska legislature, so that on                                                             
     a one-on-one basis, when we have concerns that cross our                                                                   
     state-to-provincial boundary, we feel comfortable picking up                                                               
     the phone and calling the officials there, and they feel                                                                   
     comfortable calling us, rather than getting into the sorts of                                                              
     stand-offs that we had with our ferry, when, frankly,                                                                      
     fishermen who weren't from Northern British Columbia came into                                                             
     the blockade. ...                                                                                                          
     We haven't built the sort of relationship with British                                                                     
     Columbia that we do have with the Yukon, and I know that                                                                   
     Senator Phillips has been working to try to develop that sort                                                              
     of relationship [that] gives us a better opportunity, on a                                                                 
     one-on-one basis, to deal with our concerns and our problems,                                                              
     along with ... helping each other find solutions.  And that's                                                              
     what I think:  We should just pick up the phone and call each                                                              
     other, rather than to ask the State Department to do it for                                                                
     us, because I don't think any decision made inside the Beltway                                                             
     in Washington, D.C., will ever be the best decision for Alaska                                                             
     in terms of developing our lands.                                                                                          
Number 1725                                                                                                                     
CO-CHAIR OGAN said he also believes the state has a compelling                                                                  
interest to deal with this, and to work closely with the British                                                                
Columbia government.  However, from the testimony during the                                                                    
two-and-a-half-hour hearing on HCR 4, he believes the mine could do                                                             
a better job with public relations, which is a major portion of a                                                               
mining operation.  The concerns of many people that Co-Chair Ogan                                                               
considers credible [raised to Redfern Resources prior to the                                                                    
hearing] simply had not been responded to on this side of the                                                                   
border.  Co-Chair Ogan encouraged the mine operators to do a better                                                             
job of directly answering questions posed by Alaskan residents; he                                                              
noted, in defense of Redfern Resources, that Mr. Carmichael had had                                                             
to leave the March 26 hearing on HCR 4 to attend the hearing on SCR
7.  He concluded by restating that the responses need to improve.                                                               
Number 1835                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HARRIS referred to the committee packets on SCR 7,                                                               
which contained testimony from residents of Atlin, British                                                                      
Columbia.  [Packets contained a publication from Concerned Atlin                                                                
Residents for Economic Sustainability, with statements from several                                                             
Atlin residents in support the mine, as well as a letter from Bryan                                                             
Jack, who along with three other Atlin residents had spoken against                                                             
the mine at the March 26 hearing on HCR 4].  Representative Harris                                                              
said he doesn't know whom to believe, and maybe the mining company                                                              
is doing a better job of communicating to these people than the                                                                 
legislature has been hearing.                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIR OGAN suggested that is an internal affair within British                                                               
Columbia, which they need to work out internally, including the                                                                 
road issues and the lawsuit with the First Nations, whereas the                                                                 
legislature's problem is the IJC issue.  He asked whether there                                                                 
were further questions or comments.  He restated that there had                                                                 
been public testimony already [on HCR 4].                                                                                       
Number 1914                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BARNES made a motion to move CSSCR 7(RES) out of                                                                 
committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying                                                                  
fiscal note; she asked unanimous consent.  There being no                                                                       
objection, CSSCR 7(RES) moved from the House Resources Standing                                                                 

Document Name Date/Time Subjects