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Thank you, EPA, for stepping up for Bristol Bay

Shannyn Moore
OPINION: Columnist Shannyn Moore argues that the EPA has stepped up to protect the salmon and people of Bristol Bay -- a role the state has declined under Gov. Sean Parnell. Pictured: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, seated at center, meets with tribal and community groups in the Bristol Bay region on Aug. 27, 2013. USEPA

Do you remember the first time you saw a “No Pebble” sticker or heard of the fight against the largest open pit mine at the headwaters of the last great salmon fisheries?

I do. It was a decade ago. A David-and-Goliath story. One that has a new development.

Oh, if you listen to the national Chamber of Commerce, Sen. Lisa Murkowski or the newest paid mouth for the Pebble Partnership, Tom Collier, they portray the gargantuan mine as David.

Sorry, shills. Not so fast.

On Friday the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft of its plan to protect the watershed, the salmon and the people of Bristol Bay from the threat of large-scale mining like that proposed by Pebble.

Alaskans, up against a Goliath with millions of foreign dollars and partnerships with major international mining companies, have been fighting on every front for years to protect our salmon and a way of life around Bristol Bay.

Native tribes and corporations, fishermen, hunters and environmentalists turned to the EPA and the federal Clean Water Act when it became apparent that our state officials had no will to protect those salmon-reliant communities -- not just for jobs and food but as part of their cultural heritage.

Here’s the spin from the giant machine that apparently couldn't give a damn about an entire ecosystem based on salmon: there’s a terrible conspiracy between EPA and locals to prevent foreign companies from digging a godawful hole in the ground, a toxic pit they can walk away from once they’ve taken all they can. Really? Is that why there was all that scientific research and all that testimony collected? Because they’d already decided to just hug some salmon?

In March, wingnut Congressman Darrell Issa of California called for a hearing on the matter, demanding to see emails between the EPA and anyone else on the Clean Water Act and the proposed mine. I’d like to see all the emails between Issa and the Chamber of Commerce, Pebble and anyone else on this decision, but I’m not in a position to call a hearing for anything. Watch Issa carefully because he’ll be trying to wrap it all so he can get back to not finding a Benghazi conspiracy. He’s kind of stuck in a loop that way.

The people of Alaska are ready for, and need, a resolution of the stressful situation the proposed Pebble has placed us in. Year after year we are stuck wondering if the Pebble Partnership will get to build its giant lake of poison water at the headwaters of the greatest salmon run in the world.

Guess what? Today, we are actually closer to having the protection we deserve and have been asking for. We’ve tried repeatedly to do it with a local action. If you remember, when the Lake and Peninsula Borough passed an initiative, the State of Alaska and Pebble Mine sued the community. Yeah. Thanks, Sean Parnell. When Parnell starts honking about “federal overreach,” he should be reminded of his own “state overreach.” We won’t soon forget that when Alaskans living at ground zero of the proposed mine needed protection, Parnell wilted. In fact, he carried ammo for the foreign-owned corporations threatening an Alaska way of life.

Did you know that the Pebble Partnership was paying the salaries of regulators? State law requires mining companies to underwrite our department of natural resources when it reviews a project like Pebble. Yeah. The company pays the people who decide if a mine will be permitted or not. What could go wrong? Hard to believe they haven’t turned down a single large mine.

The Parnell administration is guilty of dereliction of duty. We needed a grown-up in the room, and fortunately the EPA showed up. Lisa Murkowski said the EPA was “disingenuous.” Really? Pot meet kettle much? Of any decision facing Alaskans, Pebble mine is the one with which Murkowski is most out of touch. Maybe she’s protecting her father’s legacy of greasing the wheels for Pebble.

Murkowski and Issa like to call the EPA’s action a “preemptive veto.” Apparently they think good public policy means waiting for a disaster to happen and then requiring the federal government to pay to mitigate the damage. And our governor thinks his proper role is seeking disaster relief from the feds.

So I say, thank you, EPA, for stepping up. There are 30 million reasons to protect Bristol Bay and they come back every year, and will forever, as long as someone is willing to stand up for them.

Shannyn Moore is a radio broadcaster. You can hear her show, "The Last Word," Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on KOAN 95.5 FM and 1080 AM and 1480 We Act Radio in Washington, D.C., and on Netroots Radio.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.