Legislature(2009 - 2010)BARNES 124

04/14/2009 09:00 AM House FISHERIES

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Heard & Held
-- Testimony <Invitation Only> --
Heard & Held
-- Testimony <Invitation Only> --
HCR 15-BRISTOL BAY MINING STUDY                                                                                               
9:03:17 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR EDGMON announced that the  first order of business would be                                                               
HOUSE  CONCURRENT RESOLUTION  NO. 15,  Directing the  Legislative                                                               
Council  to  contract  for an  assessment  of  environmental  and                                                               
socioeconomic consequences  of large-scale mineral  extraction in                                                               
the Bristol Bay area watershed.                                                                                                 
9:04:42 AM                                                                                                                    
ERIN HARRINGTON,  Staff to Representative Alan  Austerman, Alaska                                                               
State Legislature, introduced HCR 15  and explained that this was                                                               
a request for  Legislative Council to contract  with the National                                                               
Research Council  (NRC) of the  National Academy of  Sciences for                                                               
an   assessment   of    the   environmental   and   socioeconomic                                                               
consequences  of large-scale  mineral extraction  in the  Bristol                                                               
Bay  area  watershed.    [Talking   points  included  in  members                                                               
packets.]   She gave some  background and history of  NRC, noting                                                               
that  the National  Academy of  Sciences was  created in  1863 to                                                               
"investigate, examine,  experiment, and  report upon  any subject                                                               
of  science   or  art"  whenever  requested   by  any  government                                                               
department.    She established  that  NRC  was not  a  consulting                                                               
service, but that its mission  was to provide policy guidance and                                                               
scientific  and  technical  analysis  for  governmental  decision                                                               
making.   She  listed the  three general  types of  NRC research:                                                               
regulatory  analyses, program  reviews,  and general  assistance.                                                               
She  informed  the  committee that  NRC  draws  conclusions  from                                                               
existing research to support decision  making, and identifies the                                                               
research that  was still  needed.   She noted  that NRC  was non-                                                               
profit  and non-governmental,  and  did not  provide services  to                                                               
for-profit entities.                                                                                                            
MS. HARRINGTON detailed that the purpose  of HCR 15 was a request                                                               
for Legislative Council to contract  with NRC for "an independent                                                               
assessment  of known  and probable  cumulative environmental  and                                                               
socioeconomic consequences  of large-scale mineral  extraction in                                                               
the Bristol  Bay watershed."   She  explained that  this contract                                                               
would "assess critical  gaps in existing knowledge  that might be                                                               
necessary  to  adequately  understand,  predict,  or  manage  the                                                               
environmental and  socioeconomic impacts  that could  be expected                                                               
or anticipated  from a development  in this region."   She stated                                                               
that  the resolution  acknowledged  and encouraged  participation                                                               
from non-partisan  and non-advocacy  organizations.   She pointed                                                               
out that  NRC was  the pre-eminent  body for  conducting research                                                               
with objectivity  and insulation; and  that NRC had  conducted 16                                                               
studies in Alaska since 1990,  including Outer Continental Shelf,                                                               
Bering Sea  ecosystem, and comprehensive risk  assessment for oil                                                               
and gas infrastructure and spills research.                                                                                     
9:12:57 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  BUCH reported  on his  visit to  the Pebble  Mine                                                               
site  and noted  that its  hydrologists were  doing an  empirical                                                               
analysis  utilizing  a  protocol  of  top-level  standards.    He                                                               
predicted  that this  aquifer  study data  would  provide a  most                                                               
comprehensive  base  line,  and  expressed his  desire  for  this                                                               
completed study to be made public.                                                                                              
9:15:04 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR EDGMON noted that Representative Kawasaki arrived.                                                                        
9:15:26 AM                                                                                                                    
MS.  HARRINGTON, in  response  to  Representative Buch,  reported                                                               
that she  was not  aware of  any plan  for the  study data  to be                                                               
shared with the public.                                                                                                         
9:15:46 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  JOHNSON asked  how many  other statewide  studies                                                               
had been completed.                                                                                                             
MS. HARRINGTON cited a list of 16 studies from 1990 to 2009.                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON asked who paid for those studies.                                                                        
MS. HARRINGTON  noted that, although she  did not have a  list of                                                               
the contractors for each individual  study, the National Research                                                               
Council  of  the  National Academy  of  Sciences  (NRC)  provided                                                               
consulting work to many governmental  agencies which included the                                                               
State of Alaska.                                                                                                                
9:16:34 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE KELLER asked for  a more specific clarification of                                                               
the goal for this NRC contract.                                                                                                 
MS. HARRINGTON directed  attention to the NRC  research and study                                                               
report on North Slope gas  development which was available to the                                                               
committee.  She pointed out  that these reports provided a review                                                               
of scientific  and technical information which  was both specific                                                               
to the  study region and  general to other  regional development.                                                               
She  noted that  the  NRC report  would  also identify  pertinent                                                               
questions to  ask during  each of  the stages  for the  long term                                                               
permitting process.                                                                                                             
9:19:08 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR EDGMON, as  a sponsor, declared his support of  HCR 15, and                                                               
referred to page 2, line 21, of the resolution, which read:                                                                     
        WHEREAS the National Academy of Sciences is the                                                                       
         premier source of objective review of complex                                                                          
     scientific questions;                                                                                                      
He  explained that  the  Pebble Mine  project  abutted "the  last                                                               
great  salmon fishery  on the  planet  Earth" and  the issue  was                                                               
about the  interaction of surface  and subsurface water.   Noting                                                               
the sensitivity  of this watershed,  he pointed out the  need for                                                               
extensive scientific analysis.  He  stressed that no other mining                                                               
project in Alaska  was contiguous to "the  biggest salmon fishery                                                               
left on the planet Earth."   He mentioned that the study may also                                                               
help the development of the mine.                                                                                               
9:21:02 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  KELLER clarified  that  it is  important to  know                                                               
what was  being purchased.  He  offered his belief that  a broad,                                                               
general  assessment  of existing  data  was  not necessary.    He                                                               
pointed out  that $90 million  had already been spent  on studies                                                               
by the Pebble Partnership.                                                                                                      
MS.  HARRINGTON, in  response  to  Representative Keller,  agreed                                                               
that the contracting  process with NRC should  include an outline                                                               
of the scope of the project,  which would reflect the desires and                                                               
requests of the Legislature.                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  KELLER surmised  that  this request  for a  study                                                               
appeared to be too early in the process.                                                                                        
9:22:41 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR EDGMON  reflected that  this type of  study should  be done                                                               
early, and noted  that "after the fact" was not  appropriate.  In                                                               
response  to Representative  Johnson, he  shared that  the Pebble                                                               
Partnership had  spent $132 million  on environmental  and socio-                                                               
economic studies,  but that this  was an opportunity for  a third                                                               
party assessment.                                                                                                               
9:23:59 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON asked where  NRC would get the information                                                               
to  evaluate.   He further  inquired how  the NRC  could do  this                                                               
analysis for  $1 million  when the  Pebble Partnership  had spent                                                               
$132  million  for  its  analysis.   He  noted  that  the  Pebble                                                               
Partnership analysis was still proprietary information.                                                                         
MS. HARRINGTON, in response  to Representative Johnson, explained                                                               
that  the NRC  process would  not  duplicate that  of the  Pebble                                                               
Partnership;  instead,  this  analysis   would  study  the  known                                                               
parameters in order  to determine the relevant  questions to pose                                                               
to the Pebble  Partnership.  She explained that  the NRC analysis                                                               
would  be a  "tool for  the policy  body, which  is a  little bit                                                               
different than a tool for  the permitting process."  She reported                                                               
that the  permitting process was  a legally  constrained process,                                                               
while this broader  NRC study may invite  additional questions to                                                               
be asked during  the permitting process.  She gave  an example of                                                               
the   Environmental  Impact   Statement  (EIS)   for  the   outer                                                               
continental  shelf,  and noted  that  NRC  research was  able  to                                                               
establish details to be questioned during that decision making.                                                                 
9:29:30 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON pointed out  that this project appeared to                                                               
be premature.                                                                                                                   
CHAIR EDGMON  responded that his constituents  desired additional                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON offered his  belief that there would never                                                               
be enough  information on this project.   He asked if  there were                                                               
any others who would testify.                                                                                                   
CHAIR EDGMON  replied that testimony  was by invitation  only and                                                               
there was just one speaker.                                                                                                     
9:31:49 AM                                                                                                                    
DR. JOSEPH SPAEDER,  Research Coordinator, Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim                                                               
Sustainable Salmon  Initiative, explained that his  group focused                                                               
on  identifying  and funding  high  priority  salmon research  in                                                               
Western  Alaska, in  order to  better understand  causes for  the                                                               
decline  of  salmon  stocks.     He  reported  that  this  was  a                                                               
collaborative  research  effort  that  included  state,  federal,                                                               
native, and  non-profit organizations.   He pointed out  that its                                                               
research plan to target funding  needed an objective, independent                                                               
third  party opinion,  so  the  group contracted  with  NRC.   He                                                               
described the  NRC process to  be rigorous,  objective, balanced,                                                               
and methodical.   He pointed  out that  NRC was not  a consulting                                                               
firm  and  that  all  the   information  in  the  process  became                                                               
available  to the  public.    He detailed  that  after the  study                                                               
committee  developed the  report, the  report was  circulated for                                                               
external peer review to ensure  independence and objectivity.  He                                                               
praised  the  NRC   report  for  its  ability   to  sort  through                                                               
information  and  focus  on an  interdisciplinary,  comprehensive                                                               
research plan.                                                                                                                  
9:41:22 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  JOHNSON, noting  that the  NRC reports  were made                                                               
public, asked how proprietary information was protected.                                                                        
DR.  SPAEDER, in  response to  Representative Johnson,  explained                                                               
that  the  NRC  often  dealt with  contentious  and  confidential                                                               
issues, and  that certain elements  could be  protected; however,                                                               
he  confirmed that  base line  scientific and  environmental data                                                               
was made public.                                                                                                                
9:43:57 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  KELLER   opined  that   the  value  was   in  the                                                               
objectivity and reputation of the NRC.   He asked Dr. Spaeder how                                                               
early  in its  project  did  his group  contract  with  NRC.   He                                                               
offered his  opinion that it would  be best to contract  with NRC                                                               
after  the Pebble  Partnership and  the state  had collected  the                                                               
DR. SPAEDER replied that the  NRC study was commissioned early on                                                               
in  the process  in  order  to provide  a  broad perspective  for                                                               
integrative   questions.      He  opined   that   this   provided                                                               
corroboration and objectivity.                                                                                                  
9:47:01 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR EDGMON closed testimony.  [HCR 15 was held.]                                                                              

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
Draft CSHJR32.PDF HFSH 4/14/2009 9:00:00 AM
HJR 32
HCR15--Fiscal Note--LEG-COU-4-13-09.pdf HFSH 4/14/2009 9:00:00 AM
HCR 15
HCR15.pdf HFSH 4/14/2009 9:00:00 AM
National Academies Earth Science State and Local Guide.pdf HFSH 4/14/2009 9:00:00 AM
HCR 15
National Academies Earth and Life Working With Us.pdf HFSH 4/14/2009 9:00:00 AM
HCR 15
NRC Home Page Information.pdf HFSH 4/14/2009 9:00:00 AM
HCR 15
UCIDA vs. Wolf Complaint.pdf HFSH 4/14/2009 9:00:00 AM
HJR 32
HJR32--SEAS Letter.PDF HFSH 4/14/2009 9:00:00 AM
HJR 32