Concerned about Pebble mine? Read this document

COMPASS: Other points of view

March 16, 2012 

Today's polarized world presents an interesting dilemma to logical debate and respectful discussion. Society has become accepting, and often ambivalent, of street theater failing to wade through the clutter and precipitate thoughtful, considerate dialogue. Dogmatic views, narrow opinions and intransigent positions are often presented as fact without accountability, evidence or substantiation. While some consider this acceptable, it should not function as the norm for the act of problem solving the very real and serious economic challenges facing Alaska communities and our country as a whole.

Consistent with our promise to be open with Alaskans, the Pebble Partnership recently released its Environmental Baseline Document. While not required to present this information publicly, we did this to reinforce our commitment to responsible, sustainable development.

This rigorous compilation of studies conducted by dozens of the best independent environmental consultants from throughout Alaska, the Lower 48 and across the world, covers multiple science disciplines with extensive studies of the physical, biological and social environments in the region. The research covers an impressive expanse of studies including fish, ground water, water quality, seismic, subsistence, socioeconomic and wildlife.

Last week this work, which represents one of the most comprehensive research programs ever undertaken for a natural resource project in Alaska, and the reputations of the participating consultants came under expected criticism in the press. While this is a standard tactic often used by those opposed to natural resource development projects in Alaska, I find the assertions offensive with no basis in fact.

Yes, Pebble paid for these studies. Who else would invest $120 million in research? Were the studies "slanted?" Absolutely not. Not only is the reputation of the consultants at stake, but more importantly, no one gains from inaccurate data. This information is essential for responsible development. Further, the scientists undertaking this work conduct research for a wide variety of entities, including non-governmental organizations and government agencies. Objectivity, professionalism and impartiality are critical to their business.

The Pebble deposit in Southwest Alaska is the largest known copper, molybdenum and gold deposit in North America. Copper is an essential element driving today's technologies and a critical component of green energy. Located on state of Alaska land designated for mineral exploration, it is one of two significant natural resources contained within Southwest Alaska. As such, it is important to understand how it may be developed, and what impact it could have on the environment, the surrounding communities and Alaska as a whole. It is for this reason that the Pebble Partnership has spent extensive time and effort studying virtually every aspect of the environment surrounding the Pebble deposit.

At the turn of the last century, conservation was defined by Gifford Pinchot, a close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, as "the wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of men." Use of resources, both renewable and nonrenewable, is fundamental to all our lives whether we recognize this or not. To use them, they must be developed. To develop them, our approach must be wise.

As former director of the Habitat and Restoration Division for the state of Alaska, I was immersed in the regulatory world where "wise use" was essential to maintaining Alaska's environment, economy and culture.

Alaska has a strict regulatory process -- one of the most stringent in the world. Modern Alaska mines have achieved success where others have failed because of the environmental care required by the state coupled with responsible practices exercised by conscientious companies that take environmental stewardship seriously.

The Environmental Baseline Document is a vast technical body of work that deserves thoughtful consideration. It is a foundational document that will, among other things, guide a responsible mining plan for the Pebble deposit. The entire document, as well as technical summaries by chapter, are available to view at www.pebbleresearch.com. A condensed overview of the document, called the "Pebble Environment," is also available at www.pebblepartnership.com.

If you are interested in Pebble, I hope you will invest time reviewing the studies.

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Ken Taylor is vice president for the environmental department of the Pebble Partnership and previously a longtime wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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