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Pebble mine gets no better with time

  • Author: Danielle Stickman
  • Updated: February 26
  • Published February 26

This is an aerial view of a work camp in the area of the proposed Pebble Mine near Iliamna.  (BILL ROTH / ADN archive 2013)

In early 2006, when George W. Bush occupied in the White House and the Republican Party was firmly in control of Congress, then-CEO of Canadian-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Bruce Jenkins spoke to several communities in Bristol Bay about the company's plans to construct one of the world's largest open-pit mines in the middle of the region we have always called home.

In his mind, the mine was a done deal. In fact, there was little in the way of consultation or collaboration with the community – Jenkins stated emphatically that Pebble mine would be built. It was just a question of when, not if it would be built.

Fast forward 11 years. The GOP once again controls the White House and Congress, promising to open lands to new development and roll back government regulations.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a project many believed was dead has been given new life. Some investment blogs and websites are newly bullish on the proposed Pebble project. Northern Dynasty's current CEO, Ronald Thiessen, is traveling the world to tout Pebble's prospects, stating the Pebble Limited Partnershi , a subsidiary owned and created by Northern Dynasty to develop the mine, will begin permitting this year.

Forgive my skepticism about these claims. Presidents and politicians come and go, but the Pebble mine will always be the wrong mine in the wrong place. Most Alaskans, hailing from all walks of life, are opposed to the mine. Why? The long-term risks of the mine far exceed any potential short-term benefits.

Opposing Pebble mine was not a decision, I believe, Alaskans came to easily. Alaskans generally support and know the value of resource development in our state's economy.

But we also innately understand that clean water and healthy fisheries are critically important to our culture, history, and economy. After all, Bristol Bay supports a 120 plus-year-old commercial fishing industry that accounts for 20,000 American jobs (including 12,000 in Bristol Bay) and $1.5 billion in national economic activity.

These are the American jobs President Trump champions.

Even before the Environmental Protection Agency decided in 2014 to propose proactive restrictions on large-scale mining in Bristol Bay, the Pebble mine was already dying under its own weight.

Three mining companies — including two of the largest in the world — had pulled out of the project, losing hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. Despite promising to begin permitting on multiple occasions, including as early as 2006, Pebble could never engineer safeguards for a mine that must stand the test of time.

I am frustrated when I hear Pebble's CEO making the same promises its parent Northern Dynasty made 11 years ago. Pebble assumes Alaskans will forget Northern Dynasty's past promises and will change their view on a project that a majority of Alaskans don't want, going as far as grossly exaggerating the very limited local support the mine enjoys, and proposing a smaller mine already deemed economically unfeasible by its own analysis.

Even basic economics are undercutting the mine's claims. Earlier this month, a private investment company in New York released a report that slammed the prospects of the Pebble mine, concluding Northern Dynasty's stock was "worthless." The findings of the report have prompted several class action lawsuits on behalf of Northern Dynasty's shareholders who allege a variety of misrepresentations to investors by the company.

Pebble's backers are also ignoring the new realities in Alaska.

We have a governor in Bill Walker who explicitly stated his opposition to the Pebble mine during his campaign. The State Department of Natural Resources recently delayed extending one of Pebble's existing permits so it can properly assess the groundswell of public concern about the company's current impacts – the first time the agency has taken such an action.

State voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot initiative to require legislative approval for large scale mines that could threaten Bristol Bay's fisheries, backing up what we already knew about public opinion. And, Alaska now has a state House of Representatives majority that is likely much more skeptical of Pebble's dubious promises that the mine can coexist with the region's fisheries.

It would be easy to look at the new political landscape and think the Pebble mine has a real chance. But a deeper look shows the fundamentals, including the Pebble project's size, scope, and location, have not – and will never – change.

Despite many changing faces in D.C., the late Sen. Ted Stevens's words still ring true today: "The Pebble mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place."

Danielle Stickman is a shareholder of Bristol Bay Native Corp., a member of the Nondalton Dena'ina Tribe, and has a bachelor's degree in environmental science.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

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