Much has been written about Pebble since November's election. I think it is time to share our views, and counter a few misconceptions recently shared on these pages by Brian Kraft.
First, I want to be clear: Pebble is not seeking special treatment from the Trump administration. We are seeking fair treatment. We want our project to be objectively and thoroughly evaluated through the well-established federal/state permitting process — an opportunity we have been denied by the Environmental Protection Agency and its preemptive veto. We have been actively battling this egregious action in court.
Our goal remains to bring forward a responsible plan to develop Pebble in a way that protects Bristol Bay fisheries and benefits the people of Alaska. We wish to have that plan reviewed fairly to see if it meets the strict environmental standards for development in Alaska and the U.S.
Kraft would have you believe Pebble has already filed for permits. This is simply not true. To initiate an environmental impact statement process, Pebble must file a Clean Water Act permit application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Even if we had taken this step, the Corps would be unable to grant permits to Pebble given the preemptive action taken by EPA.
Many Alaskans assume that all Pebble has done in recent years is fight in court. While we have had many legal challenges, we have also used this time to critically evaluate our project. We have worked hard to find ways to be more responsive to Alaskans' priorities and concerns.
Specifically, we have developed ways to substantially reduce the initial development footprint at Pebble, and meaningfully enhance environmental safeguards. We have advanced plans to provide a financial interest in the mine to residents of the region. We are working to develop more meaningful partnerships with Alaska Native corporations and clear economic benefits for participants in the fishery.
We have several other ideas to address stakeholder concerns about Pebble, and ensure the state's citizens benefit to the greatest degree possible. We expect to be talking much more about these concepts in the months ahead.
Some try to paint Pebble through the easy rhetoric of "wrong mine, wrong place" — suggesting they support mining but Pebble is somehow different. This is a false premise because it implies that mining and the environment cannot coexist. Truth is mines in Alaska must meet extremely high environmental standards. Our modern industry has an exemplary record of safely coexisting with clean water and healthy fisheries in every corner of the state. Pebble will be no different.
Given its location on state land, Pebble is a vitally important public asset. It has the potential to employ thousands of Alaskans with good paying, year-round jobs over decades of operation. It would generate billions of dollars in economic activity annually, while contributing hundreds of millions in state and local taxes, and important payments to the Permanent Fund.
As Alaskans evaluate opportunities to attract new investment to diversify the state's economy and address our fiscal crisis, we simply cannot afford to turn our back on one of the most important mineral resources ever discovered without even evaluating if it can be developed responsibly.
I will acknowledge the committed opposition to our project. In this realm too, I think it is time we turn a page.
My colleagues and I welcome dialog with those opposed to Pebble. If that dialog can help define a project that addresses Alaskans' concerns and creates real benefits for the state and its people, so much the better. If it cannot, then I genuinely respect the rights of all stakeholders to oppose Pebble's development.
It is also worth noting that many Alaskans support our battle with the EPA because of the dangerous precedent a preemptive veto would set. A majority support Pebble's right to be fairly evaluated through the federal/state permitting process. And we have pockets of support throughout Bristol Bay based on the dire need for jobs and socioeconomic opportunity there.
Unfortunately, it is often difficult for people to express their support for Pebble (or even an open mind) due to fear of backlash from project opponents. It is truly a shame that public dialog about such an important project has been suppressed in this way, and so much communication between Pebble and its critics occurs on the op-ed pages of Alaska newspapers.
And so I will take this opportunity to formally invite any Pebble critic to come see me with your ideas and concerns. My door is always open.
Finally, I must take exception to Kraft's assertion that we at Pebble are not good neighbors. People can say all they want about me, but I will defend the actions of our employees when they are unfairly disparaged.
When Kraft's colleagues in the lodge industry have needed assistance, we have never hesitated to help. We have taken great pains to train, hire and contract local residents and support local institutions. The people who lost their jobs as a result of EPA actions believe Pebble was a good neighbor in their villages, and hope the project will employ them, their family and neighbors once again.
We are entering a new phase at Pebble, one in which our project will be fundamentally redefined to address Alaskans' priorities and concerns. I hope you will all look on us with fresh eyes in 2017.
Tom Collier is CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership.
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