Can’t develop without a road. The window for public comment on a controversial road comes to a close this week. The Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Project — or Ambler Road — would start at the Dalton highway and stretch over 200 miles west. That’s a big road in a state with not that many of them. Proponents say it will enable growth of the mining industry, and create jobs. Detractors worry about impacts to subsistence and the environment. The road itself is an idea that’s been kicking around for decades. But it picked up steam back in 2011. At that time, the price of oil was high, the state had cash, and then-Governor Sean Parnell wanted to put some of that money toward encouraging natural resource development in parts of the state that were off the road system. Ambler Road was part of that push. It’s an area that has been explored for its rich mineral potential since the 1950s, but hasn’t been developed because of its remoteness.
Pruitt’s Pandering Prohibits Process. Scott Pruitt has done good work reining in his predecessor’s regulatory overreach. But that only makes the EPA Administrator’s decision late last week to rubber stamp a violation of due process toward a mine proposal in Alaska all the more disappointing. The Environmental Protection Agency said it will no longer seek to withdraw the Obama Administration’s pre-emptive veto of the proposed Pebble copper and gold mine in southwest Alaska. The Obama EPA issued that unprecedented veto in February 2014, blocking Pebble’s progress through the regular Clean Water Act process in which a company files for permits and receives an environmental review from the Army Corps of Engineers. EPA’s job is to weigh in at the end of the review, not short-circuit the application. EPA says that although the veto will remain in place, the agency will allow the Pebble Limited Partnership an additional three years to navigate the Corps process. This is less generous than it sounds. Pebble had already won that right in May 2017, when the EPA settled litigation Pebble brought that had exposed EPA’s phony science and the collaboration by EPA employees with anti-mine activists and native tribes to sabotage the project. As part of that settlement, EPA agreed to start formally withdrawing the veto. Mr. Pruitt’s about-face is the sort of arbitrary diktat that undermines capital investment. Shares in Northern Dynasty Minerals, which owns Pebble, fell 21% on Monday, the first trading day after the Pruitt announcement. EPA says its decision to maintain the veto is based on more than “one million comments” it has received since this summer that mostly oppose the mine, and Mr. Pruitt’s judgment that “any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there.”
Merging with the competition. Plans to reopen a fertilizer plant in Nikiski are on hold after the company formerly known as Agrium entered a merger with its competition. The newly formed Nutrien faces the same problems in reopening the plant, plus delays from smoothening out the merger, the Peninsula Clarion reported Monday. The plant opening still depends on corporate investment priorities and the always-looming question of whether the global fertilizer manufacturer can get the natural gas it uses as raw material. But Nutrien Government Affairs Manager Adam Diamond said the merger has put some plans on hold, including whether to study a possible reopening of the plant. Nutrien formed from the combination of Alberta-based Agrium and its Saskatchewan-based rival Potash Corp. Werth. Diamond said Nutrien’s management would review their post-merger prospects over the next six months. In 2016 interviews, Diamond said reopening the plant would cost an estimated $275 million — a calculation he said the company hasn’t refined since. If Nutrien were to reopen the plant, it would be able to take advantage of a tax credit crafted by Republican state Rep. Mike Chenault of Nikiski, which went into effect in July 2017. Nutrien’s corporate income tax liability would be credited equal to the royalty payments made to the state by the producers who supply Nutrien its gas, making it financially neutral for the state government.
Support and concern as Ambler Road comment period draws to a close
KTOO Public Media, Ravenna Koenig, January 30, 2018
Pruitt’s Bad Pebble Precedent
The Wall Street Journal, The Editorial Board, January 30, 2018
Merger could delay plans to reopen Nikiski fertilizer plant
AP News, January 31, 2018