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Speech: Alaska's Rare Opportunity

Strategic Minerals Summit Remarks

Governor Sean Parnell
September 30, 2011

Good morning! I’m excited to hear that this may be the largest rare earth mineral conference in the nation.

First, thanks to DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan and his staff for organizing this summit. Commissioner Marc Luiken of DOTPF and Commissioner Susan Bell of DCEED. Bob Swenson and Ed Fogels – thank you.

Alaska HAS rare earth minerals.

And we ARE strategically located.

And now, as you see, we have a GREAT strategic team in place.

Thank you also to the legislators who are here today. Will you please stand to be recognized!

I have a story to tell you. A couple of my staff members just came back from Heatherdale’s Niblack mine on Prince of Wales Island.

In the past two years, they’ve expanded the proven resource by 60 percent. They’re hiring local people and training them.

Heatherdale is spending $1.2 million in the economy every month, for groceries, fuel, training.

35 people are working at that mine.

Now it may seem small in scale, but there’s a tremendous sense of optimism both in the miners and the management team.

Niblack isn’t a rare earth mine. Yet it illustrates an important point:

In Southeast Alaska, where the federal government has decimated timber jobs, the private sector is establishing a beachhead of opportunity there for new jobs.

And we are exploring how there could be shared facilities on state land for both Niblack and Ucore’s anticipated rare earth development at Bokan Mountain.

The timing is right for rare earth development. Last year, China threw down the gauntlet, said its rare earth exports would be curtailed.

Alaska accepted the challenge.

We’re on track to Assess, / Incentivize, / and Develop the rare earth elements we can provide the world.

To get there, we have a plan:

First, we are undertaking a statewide assessment of the state’s rare earth potential.

The Legislature approved my administration’s request to fund this work. And it will add to what we’ve already done on mineral assessments, including 10 million acres of high-resolution geophysics and 5 million acres of mapping.

So far, we’ve identified about 70 sites with rare earth potential.

We’re one of the most under-explored regions of the world. So the potential is huge. You and I know -- there’s a lot more out there!

We also know time is of the essence. I wrote to President Obama and requested he direct the US Geological Survey to assist us in locating rare earth elements in this state.

We don’t see eye to eye on everything, but on this one, we are in alignment. I had Secretary Salazar in my office and asked him to join in a cooperative mode to assess the rare earth potential, and he had a positive reaction to that request.

Second, we will provide incentives for the development of known or highly prospective strategic mineral occurrences throughout Alaska.

Infrastructure is key. We understand that as a state. And we’ll continue to explore and fund potential improvements to spur development, including roads, ports, and power facilities.

I thank the House, as we worked with legislators to create bonding authority for mining projects.

We have a number of officials from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority here today. They have done important work in this area in the past and I know will continue to focus on infrastructure going forward.

Third, we’ll improve Alaska’s permitting structure and efficiency.

We have created the large mine permitting process, which has evolved over the past 15 years and is unique among the nation’s mining states.

Yet there are many permitting challenges, including how permits interplay with the federal regulatory processes, and we will look for ways to work together. I asked the legislature to approve – and it did! -- $4 million for permitting reform.

This will include:

Modifying agency public notice requirements so they complement each other.

And, as mentioned earlier, standardizing procedures for calculating bonds for mining projects.

We’ll identify regulatory hurdles that are specific to strategic mineral mining, processing and transportation, and we’ll work with the federal government to change Thorium and Uranium shipping restrictions.

We can’t afford 10-year delays on rare earth mineral development. We can’t afford another decade, like what happened with Kensington. So we are going to address it proactively.

Fourth, we’ll deepen coordination with public and private sector stakeholders.

Improving these relationships is imperative for the country, not just Alaska. In this state, strategic minerals are likely to be found on state, federal, and private or Native lands.

Establishing strong partnerships with these entities and others is critical. In many ways, THAT is what this summit is all about.

We’ll do this by finding and implementing permitting efficiencies, we’ll collaborate more on exploration and data collection efforts, and even work together as appropriate on joint research projects.

And fifth, we are working to attract new investment and markets for Alaska’s rare earth minerals.

The State of Alaska is stepping forward to inform the world of:

Our resource base.

Our favorable fiscal structure.

And our robust and sensible environmental protections.

And, of course, how we work with industry to assist in exploration and development.

Friends, Alaska is investing in Alaska. With good reason. The global investment climate is shaky. As I look at the world, I don’t see a good investment climate. But metals – gold, silver, copper and such, are a solid investment in these times.

We are at the brink of a new promise, a promise of rare earth minerals. As an example, Bokan Mountain is now ranked 15th in North America for total tonnage of contained rare earth oxides.

Investors and companies, such as many of you here, are beginning to take notice of Alaska’s great promise.

Our state is going to play a vital role to enhance our nation’s security, and in improving our nation’s economy.

We’ll support you. And we’ll work with you to develop rare earth elements across this great land.

Thank you.

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