Legislature(1999 - 2000)
04/09/1999 01:12 PM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 resolution. 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 Committee.