- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - An Alaska legislator is proposing a new level of scrutiny for the Pebble Mine project: requiring that three state commissioners find beyond a reasonable doubt that the mine would not be a danger to the region’s world-premier fishery.

Voters in 2014 decided that, besides permits, large-scale metallic mines in the Bristol Bay region also will need legislative approval.

Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson of Anchorage wants to build off that. His bill, House Bill 14, would require that, before the Legislature weighs in, the commissioners of Natural Resources, Environmental Conservation and Fish and Game each determine that mine backers have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that their operations will not be a danger to the fishery, fish or wildlife in the region.

The bill doesn’t mention Pebble by name, and Josephson said there are a number of large claims in the area. But he said the bill has a lot to do with Pebble, a massive copper and gold prospect that’s been closely watched, and debated, for years.

Pebble has yet to move into the permitting phase, and the last several years have been marked by the departure of one of the project’s partners and an ongoing legal fight between Pebble and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A federal judge in early January put the litigation on hold to allow Pebble and the EPA time to try to resolve it.

Critics of Josephson’s proposal raised concerns about politicizing the permitting process. During a legislative hearing Tuesday, questions were raised, too, about the constitutionality of the initiative.

Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for the Pebble Limited Partnership, the group behind Pebble, testified that the bill would add more levels of bureaucracy to the permitting process.

“This really is an unprecedented level of scrutiny for any project,” he said.

Josephson points to the Bristol Bay region as a special area.

“At some point, the state might just very well permit this stuff. And I don’t have confidence that the state has the manpower or the expertise to monitor a dam for, you know, 1,000 years,” he said in an interview.

It’s not clear what traction Josephson’s bill might get. Before voters passed the initiative, legislative proposals to place restrictions on large-scale mines in the Bristol Bay area or to require legislative approval prior to permitting went nowhere.

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