Imagine an NFL football game where the referees were picked by one team, flown around by one team, and paid by one team. Plus, the refs go into the game knowing which side is going to win.
It would not go over well with any player or fan with a sense of fair play and objectivity.
Yet, that is what the developers of the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) expect the public to accept when it comes to their massive gold-and-copper mine proposed in the Bristol Bay watershed. PLP has hired the Keystone Center to conduct "scientific panels" on the proposed Pebble Mine. The New Stuyahok Tribe has joined with other Bristol Bay tribes to oppose this process.
Science is important in evaluating the impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay watershed. Likewise, it's important to use sound science to manage the fishery of Bristol Bay, which provides half the world's sockeye salmon.
But sound science is built on the foundation of objectivity. The Keystone process is not objective because Keystone has a financial relationship with the company that is actively seeking the rights to develop the Pebble Mine. We do not trust in a process that is bought-and-paid-for by the foreign companies that want to exploit these resources.
Second, the Keystone panels do not consider the most important question: Is large scale mining even appropriate in Bristol Bay, given the sensitivity of salmon to mining and the wide benefits the fishery provides? Instead, the Keystone panels focus on an outcome favorable to the mining company – how to build "the best" mine.
In the minds of our tribe, which has depended on this fishery for thousands of years, the best mine is no mine at all. The Bristol Bay salmon are central to our economic and cultural well-being. We know that the salmon will continue to provide abundant food and thousands of annual jobs, but only if the spawning grounds are protected from large-scale mining and harmful mine waste.
Finally, Keystone has said it's objective is to "help stakeholders make better informed decisions about the proposed mine." In other words, the panels are about telling, not asking. They are about pushing an agenda, not taking in information.
The panels aren't even occurring in Bristol Bay. They are set in Anchorage – far from the people who will be most affected by the proposed mine.
There is an alternative that is much better than the Pebble-Keystone process. Bristol Bay Tribes, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation and the commercial fishing industry petitioned the US Environmental Protection Agency to get involved.
The EPA has no financial ties to the outcome and has clear regulatory authority to conduct a study of the risks of large-scale mining to the Bristol Bay fishery under the Clean Water Act. Its mission is to provide objective information to regional stakeholders.
The EPA watershed assessment is fair, transparent and thorough. It has broad local support. Furthermore, the information is subject to a rigorous scientific process.
This is all in stark contrast to the process advanced by Pebble Limited Partnership. So far, PLP has produced 30,000 pages of what it calls "baseline data." The documents are more confusing than enlightening. They underestimate the risks of pollution that are inherent to such a massive mining operation, with its billions of tons of toxic waste rock. The "data" cannot be checked, so there is no transparency. And of course, there is the basic conflict of interest underlying it all.
We aren't the only ones questioning the Keystone process. University of Washington researcher David Montgomery, an expert on salmon runs, has bowed out of the panels, calling them scientifically flawed. Another recognized and highly respected salmon expert from the University of Washington, Daniel Schindler, was kicked off the panel, as Keystone picks and chooses the experts it wants to listen to.
We respect PLP's right to spend its money as it wishes and hire consultants like Keystone to pursue its interests. But the public should recognize this "dialogue process" and the "scientific panels" for what they are: a far cry from legitimate science.
Dennis Andrew is president of the New Stuyahok Traditional Council and a long-time commercial fisherman. Five Bristol Bay tribes sent a letter to Keystone, available online here.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.