If you read their press releases recently, you would get the impression that the Pebble Limited Partnership is having a very good bit of luck. That's because a bought-and-paid for "independent" report by former Defense Secretary William Cohen stated that the company was treated "unfairly" by the Environmental Protection Agency and the people of Bristol Bay.
With all due respect to Mr. Cohen, who is neither a scientist nor a legal expert, a review of Pebble's hand-selected documents and a flyover will not come close to really evaluating Bristol Bay or how its people feel about the potential development of colossal open pit hard rock mine in their backyard. Rather, Mr. Cohen's "report" is simply the latest in a long line of Pebble-backed propaganda—with the mining company playing the role of innocent victim, and Bristol Bay's residents the villains.
The report argues a traditional mining review process should have been undertaken in Bristol Bay. Tellingly, however, the report agrees that the EPA's proposed Clean Water Act restrictions on Pebble's development are completely, 100 percent legal. Given this, the best the report can muster is that the EPA acted "unfairly" toward Pebble and "blocked" the traditional mining review process from commencing. In reality, the only thing stopping this process is Pebble itself.
Every year, for nearly 10 years now, Pebble has promised to submit its permit applications and begin the review process. Each year we've waited in vain for Pebble to file a permit application even though it is clear from their reports to their shareholders and to the Securities Exchange Commission they know the type and grade of the deposit, the location and the method of mining required to develop the deposit. After years of waiting, our tribes petitioned the EPA to protect our watershed and others also began to wonder why Pebble hadn't applied for permits. Even Senator Murkowski, in a letter to Pebble's executives, pushed the company to be transparent and file for permits. Still, year's later, nothing.
Instead of accepting responsibility or acknowledging its own faults, Pebble instead has decided to remedy its situation by attacking anyone who has opposed or questioned the project and paying for self-congratulating reports, like the one from Mr. Cohen.
In 2013, Pebble aimed to punish, via bankruptcy, one of Alaska's founders, Vic Fischer, along with former First Lady, Alaska Native and Bristol By resident, Bella Hammond by insisting they personally pay Pebble's legal fees in a case brought to validate the rights of all Alaskans. Luckily, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled against Pebble's claims. Next, Pebble filed more federal lawsuits to delay the thorough and transparent EPA review process when over 1.5 million Americans stood up to say, 'no thanks' to their mega-mine. Today, many who supported EPA, especially those of us from Bristol Bay, are being slapped with subpoenas by Pebble in an aggressive effort to intimidate and silence any opposition to the project.
Although Pebble is engaging in a campaign to silence its critics, it cannot silence the scientific facts. For instance, for years Pebble touted the Mount Polley mine in British Columbia as proof that salmon and mines can coexist. Then in early August 2014, the Mount Polley tailings dam failed, sending billions of tons of toxins down the Fraser River, the full effects of which are still unknown. Mount Polley was not only their poster child for modern mining, but the very same contractors who designed the Mount Polley tailings dam were on contract with Pebble.
Here's another set of facts Pebble cannot silence: Recent polling shows over half of Alaskans oppose the Pebble project. During EPA's most recent public comment period, over 95 percent of in-region commenters supported taking action to protect Bristol Bay. Finally, this summer over 8,000 Alaskans delivered postcards to Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressing their continued support for strong protections for our salmon-rich region.
In truth, we are tired and frustrated. Our fight to protect what we hold most sacred has consistently been skewed and politicized by the Pebble Partnership. We are simply trying to protect our home and our way of life. Throughout all their attempts to do so however, none of their highly paid efforts or publicity stunts have addressed the cold, hard facts that this mine is dangerous and completely unwelcome in our home region. We are disgusted by the constant harassment and degradation of the people of Bristol Bay and it's just getting worse the more desperate they become.
Enough is enough, Pebble.
Alannah Hurley is a lifelong Bristol Bay resident and executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. UTBB is a tribal consortium representing 14 tribes (over 80 percent of the total population of Bristol Bay) working to protect the Bristol Bay watershed that sustains the Yup'ik, Denai'na and Alutiq way of life.