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Alaskans invited EPA, so Parnell's 'federal overreach' does not apply

Recently Alaska Dispatch wrote a story about the Parnell Administration's repeated attempts to lock horns with the federal government. Sadly at the top of his list of examples of "federal overreach," the governor errantly put my home region of Bristol Bay, where the Environmental Protection Agency has conducted a thorough scientific analysis of the impacts of large-scale mining like the proposed Pebble project.

To be perfectly clear, EPA is studying Bristol Bay at the request of Alaskans, like the Nondalton Tribal Council, and Alaskans only. Our tribes, commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, and Bristol Bay Native Corporation asked them to analyze the impacts of large-scale mining in the region because we know what is truly at stake. Not to mention, poll after poll shows that Alaskans oppose Pebble at a nearly 2-to-1 margin (and in the Bristol Bay region it's nearly 7-to-1).

None of us wants to see Alaska's resources plunged into legal showdowns with any entity. But Gov. Parnell needs to call a spade a spade: It isn't "federal overreach" when the United States, at the request of its own people, works to protect tribal resources, 14,000 existing American jobs and a valuable regional economy from the whims of powerful, foreign-owned developers.

Again, nine federally recognized tribes, plus commercial fishermen and sporting organizations, urged the federal government to do a lot more than study the situation and document the impacts and risks. We asked the government to help us stop a mine of overwhelming scale and severe impacts that is proposed to be developed less than 60 miles away from the community where I live.

The EPA elected to do an independent study rather than enacting the restrictions on mining that we asked for, and by now people know that their peer-reviewed findings are deeply disturbing and entirely unacceptable to people across this state. No project that is going to destroy up to 90 miles of salmon streams and up to 4,800 acres of wetland habitat as the best case scenario should be allowed to proceed. And few are convinced that Pebble will successfully store, monitor and treat up to 10 billion tons of waste for hundreds or thousands of years, a timeline beyond companies and governments.

As the community closest to the Pebble prospect, the people of Nondalton have expressed deep and lasting opposition to this mine. We stand united with the entire Bristol Bay region, which in survey after survey, demonstrates wildly overwhelming opposition to the dangerous Pebble Mine.

We appreciate that a majority of Alaskans in this great state also reject Pebble, even though many favor resource development in general. That is because no matter how much money Pebble blankets our airwaves and mailboxes and Legislature with, people see through their promises and rhetoric. They are a multinational corporation looking to make the most money possible for their shareholders. At any cost.

As Sen. Lisa Murkowski recently stated in a letter to the Pebble folks, after a decade of bogus assurances that they will submit a plan, it is time for them to come clean with the people of Alaska and show their cards. If they can't or won't, they should leave us in peace. As Sen. Murkowski eloquently wrote, "...after years of waiting, it is anxiety, confusion and frustration that have become the norm in many communities...."

We can wait no longer for relief from this constant threat and the cloud that hangs over our future. That is why so many have sought and support the help of our federal government to protect what is an irreplaceable resource on a global scale -- one that has sustained people for thousands of years and will continue to if it doesn't come to harm.

Gov. Parnell and all Alaskans have a right to be angry when any entity -- foreign or domestic -- overreaches and disrupts the will of our people. But the governor is barking up the wrong tree. The EPA is here at the request of Alaskans and Pebble is not. It's time to update his talking points.

Charlotte Balluta is a member of the Nondalton Tribal Council. She is a lifelong resident of Nondalton, where she subsistence hunts and fishes with multiple generations of her family throughout the year. Her village lies about 16 miles east of the Pebble prospect.

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

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