I shake my head in disbelief and amazement that Washington, D.C., think tank executive Daniel McGroarty, of the American Resources Policy Network, would tell Alaskans to not worry about the Pebble mine. I guess defending our homeland brands us "activists" and our partners "left-wing environmental groups." Alaskans don't care about the name calling; for us it's about protecting our home and way of life. The tribes and Native corporations that I work for invited both the Environmental Protection Agency and our current partners to help us protect this wild salmon fishery that has sustained our families for generations.
I am shocked that McGroarty argues that the U.S. should do more mining as a matter of national security and that Pebble is an important part of that. Yet, he fails to mention that the U.S. produced 1.15 million tons of copper last year (a 4 percent increase over 2011) from 28 mines and is the fourth-largest producer in the world according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Nor does he address the hugely significant impacts that the proposed Pebble mine would have on the salmon, people and existing economy of Bristol Bay.
McGroarty, who will be testifying on mining in Bristol Bay before the U.S. House Science and Technology Oversight subcommittee this week although he has NO expertise on Bristol Bay or the Pebble Mine, argues that we should depend less on foreign supplies of copper then fails to mention that Anglo American has been positioning itself to supply massive amounts of copper to China for its development. So, one foreign entity will extract the ore, ship it overseas to another foreign group to process it, then sell it to a foreign country. Now tell me how, exactly, does that lessen our dependence on foreign materials?
McGroarty also cites a host of mining industry abuses, from child slaves in the Congo to horrible health and safety violations in Zambia. This is a very strange way of expressing support for the Pebble project which, according to the EPA, would have "catastrophic" consequences on a fishery generating thousands of jobs and $1.5 billion in annual revenue. Meanwhile, a mining expert hired by a Native village near the proposed mine found "(e)conomic survival in the post-(Pebble mine) environment could be much more difficult than it is at present" and that diminished salmon spawning due to the proposed Pebble mine would have "significant bearing on the viability of Alaska Native Villages" in the region. Of course, he fails to mention that Anglo American -- Pebble's bigger backer -- has a disastrous track record of environmental abuse, labor unrest and injustice to natives in multiple countries.
McGroarty's "policy network" offers up a "nationwide network" to help provide "powerful grassroots advocates" for projects like Pebble and "their legislative priorities." Sadly, it makes a lot of sense that Pebble would link arms with them since Pebble has virtually NO grassroots support in Alaska. And McGroarty also conveniently omits that he owns 650,000 shares in and is president of a mining company which holds 16,000 acres of land in Colorado, Idaho and Montana -- something it seems he should disclose up front since he gets others to pay him to promote mining anywhere, at any cost.
This fight is not about the EPA, or the agency reinterpreting existing law, as McGroarty puts it. The law and the legal record are clear that EPA has the power to protect significant national resources like those found in Bristol Bay when they are or will be adversely impacted. And for this reason alone, six tribes of Bristol Bay, five of which are members of the organization I work for, asked the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect the clean waters of Bristol Bay from large scale mining. This is about a people fighting for our way of life and protecting the lands and waters of Bristol Bay that we've been subsisting from and stewarding for 10,000 years.
As EPA found in its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, the proposed Pebble mine could directly destroy nearly 90 miles of streams and up to 4,800 acres of wetlands, not to mention its massive secondary impacts as well. That is completely unacceptable, which is why more than 80 percent of Bristol Bay residents and a majority of Alaskans say NO to Pebble time and time again. There are plenty of copper mines around the world that are not located in the wet, sensitive habitat that is home to the world's largest sockeye salmon run, or that have a massive, destructive footprint the size of a small city.
The people of Bristol Bay have the most at stake when it comes to the proposed Pebble mine, and we don't want it. McGroarty may talk down to us but it is simply intolerable for the Pebble Limited Partnership and its parent companies to come here and take our resources and then leave us with irreversible and destructive pollution to our sustainable fishery, our natural resources, and our way of life.
Kimberly Williams is the executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai, which means "Caretakers of the Land" in Yup'ik. Nunamta is an association of 10 Alaska Native village corporations and tribes that have allied to manage the future of the Bristol Bay region. Ms. Williams lives in Dillingham, Alaska, where she and all of her family have been fishing for generations.
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.