The Pebble Limited Partnership recently announced the addition of Mark Hamilton as its executive vice president of external affairs. As the president of the University of Alaska system for 12 years, Hamilton is no stranger to Alaska, particularly those in the academic community. According to the Pebble partnership, Mr. Hamilton will "connect with political, business, community, and Alaska Native leaders throughout the state to better understand their views and consider their advice," on the proposed Pebble mine.
Given his background, why isn't Mr. Hamilton's appointment being met with excitement from many of his colleagues in our community?
Perhaps it is because Mr. Hamilton's rationale for taking the job is contradicted by the overwhelming public opposition and scientific evidence that shows that industrial hard-rock mining would have a significant negative influence on Bristol Bay's ecosystems.
In a press release, Mr. Hamilton said: "I believe in reason. I believe in coming to the table to contest different opinions respectfully and honestly; refusing to hear the evidence that supports opinions contrary to our own signals the rejection of the dialectic and the end of reason. … I intend to appeal to my fellow Alaskans to rise above that caustic dynamic, and to consider (the Pebble mine) based on its merits — on the facts, rather than on fear."
With all due respect to Mr. Hamilton, Alaskans' opposition to the Pebble mine is based on both scientific data and social merits, as well as a healthy dose of fear for what could happen if open pit mining is allowed in a pristine wilderness where fish sustain both nature and our communities.
Regional opposition is a product of extensive educational activities presented to the Bristol Bay residents while Mr. Hamilton served the UA system. During his tenure, the university approved activities intended to inform the people of Bristol Bay with unbiased scientific information about the Pebble mine, including its risks and benefits. He had a front-row seat for understanding how a majority of the region developed opinions based on fact and reason.
Our fears about the Pebble mine are further grounded in the findings of a robust scientific process initiated locally and finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment relied on data and analysis from scientists and economists, many from the university Mr. Hamilton once led.
The only thing that has changed in the nearly four years since the watershed assessment was finalized is the newly appointed EPA administration in Washington, D.C., that has breathed new life into the Pebble project. As we have seen during the recent comment period concerning the EPA's withdrawal of the Assessment's proposed restrictions, the opposition to the Pebble mine in Alaska and the Lower 48 remains alive, well, and growing. Over 80 percent of the region's residents oppose the mine, and 65 percent of Alaska voters supported the Bristol Bay Forever ballot initiative.
With the possible exception of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, no other proposed Alaska resource development project has been the subject of as much debate as the Pebble project. The fact that Pebble is such a known commodity in Alaska makes Mr. Hamilton's stated role with the company so perplexing. In many ways, Mr. Hamilton seeks a dialogue and conversation that has already occurred over many years. A man who is no stranger to science and reason is jumping on board with a project that science and reason have already deemed too risky and costly.
This type of approach is par for the course for the Pebble partnership, which has long sought to move the argument beyond science and into the realm of political influence and illusion. In October, it was revealed that the EPA decided to begin the process of withdrawing its mining restrictions in Bristol Bay just hours after Pebble CEO Tom Collier met with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Career staffers with relevant scientific and policy backgrounds were not given the opportunity to brief Administrator Pruitt about their extensive work in Bristol Bay.
This recent EPA decision followed a multiyear legal process in which Pebble sought to discredit both the science and scientists underpinning the EPA Watershed Assessment. These are not the actions of a company that intends to have an open and honest dialogue with the people its actions would affect.
We want to take Mr. Hamilton's stated role at face value. But history and reason are our guides in understanding that the Pebble Limited Partnership's only goal is to cultivate investors and permit a massive mine — no matter the social and environmental risks.
Reason is the power of the mind to think, understand and form judgments by a process of logic. Our judgment about the risks of the Pebble mine have been settled using the best science, logic and policy prescription. We hope Mr. Hamilton soon reaches a similar conclusion.
Dr. Deborah McLean is recently retired from the University of Alaska system. She served the people of the Bristol Bay region for 25 years, with the last 15 years as the director of the Bristol Bay campus. Dr. Todd Radenbaugh is an environmental scientist and educator currently living in Bristol Bay, with international and interdisciplinary experience in the fields of geology, ecology, geography, and environmental policy. Mark Lisac is a 34-year resident of Bristol Bay and a retired federal fishery biologist.
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