Recently, hundreds of Alaskans gathered in Anchorage for a public hearing to voice their opposition to the proposed Pebble Mine. In what could be one of the last opportunities for the public to formally weigh in, Alaskans turned out in force to let the Army Corps of Engineers know that Pebble’s draft environmental impact statement is woefully inadequate for assessing the impacts the proposed mine would have on Bristol Bay and its people, communities and fisheries. Alaskans delivered the same message to the Corps of Engineers at multiple other public hearings previously held in Bristol Bay and in Homer.
The atmosphere and tenor of these recent hearings were reminiscent of the many other public hearings that have taken place during the past seven years regarding Pebble. In each instance, Alaskans testified by overwhelming numbers to voice concerns about the potential construction, operation and post-closure maintenance of a large-scale open pit mine near the headwaters of Nushagak and Kvichak river systems in Bristol Bay. Alaskans have simply never accepted the premise that a large open-pit metallic sulfide mine can coexist with Bristol Bay’s fisheries.
Alaskans’ opposition to Pebble has remained solid since at least 2012, when Bristol Bay Native Corporation first began conducting annual statewide polls. In this year’s polling, 54% of Alaskans oppose Pebble, while only 35% support it. These are numbers that have remained remarkably consistent: The opposition to Pebble has never dropped below 50%; support for the project has never reached 40%. A copy of the polling data is available to the public on BBNC’s website.
These polling numbers have also remained immune to changing corporate, economic and political conditions. Multiple mine partners invested in and later divested from Northern Dynasty Minerals, the sole member of the Pebble Limited Partnership. A new CEO took the reins. Leadership changed in both Juneau and Washington, D.C. Commodity prices moved up and down. Mine plans shifted. Through it all, Alaskans consistently opined that the proposed Pebble mine is unacceptable under any configuration or scenario.
The irony of the current state of play is that a new talking point from Pebble is that it listened to Alaskans in developing its latest iteration of a mine design. Pebble proudly touts an ostensibly smaller mine plan, even though the current proposal is larger than the smallest mine scenario considered in the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment – a mining scenario that the Environmental Protection Agency found would create “unacceptable adverse impacts” on Bristol Bay and its water resources.
Alaskans aren’t supporting what Pebble is offering. According to our poll, more than 60% of Alaskans believe it is more likely than not that if a smaller mine moves forward, plans for a larger mine will be pursued and ultimately approved. My fellow citizens see the “smaller” mine plan for what it is – a foothold designed to make it easier to launch more ambitious plans in the future. A strategy that Northern Dynasty Minerals is already actively using to woo potential new financial partners.
Pebble also asserts itself as a financial savior for a state that faces a fiscal crisis. Yet when Northern Dynasty Minerals executives speak to potential investors, they do not shy away from their hope of accessing state infrastructure financing through the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. It is at best inconsistent and at worst outright hypocrisy to promise significant state royalty revenues while also expecting Alaskans to pay the capital costs to build the necessary infrastructure. Alaskans are fiercely opposed for state funding being used for Pebble’s infrastructure, by a 71% - 23% margin.
In recent years, Pebble has spent significant resources to change minds about its mining proposals through glossy mailers, sponsorships, the speakers’ circuit, exorbitant lobbying expenditures, political contributions and a vast public relations campaign. Throughout it all, public opinion on Pebble Mine has hardly moved an inch.
Alaskans have not changed their views on the proposed mine because Pebble is, and will always be, “the wrong mine in the wrong place,” as the late Sen. Ted Stevens once stated. For the people of our state, the only acceptable answer to the Pebble Mine question is that the mine should not be built. That was true when Sen. Stevens first expressed opposition to Pebble Mine in 2006, and based on polling and robust public participation, it remains true in 2019.
If Pebble were truly committed to listening to Alaskans, it would have abandoned its proposal to put a large-scale open pit mine in Bristol Bay long ago. Absent this unlikely action, I remind my fellow Alaskans that there is indeed strength in numbers. Now is the time for us to remain united and raise our voices against the proposed Pebble Mine.
Everette Anderson is a Bristol Bay Native Corporation Director and shareholder, as well as a former commercial fisherman from Dillingham. He is a shareholder Choggiung Limited, the Alaska Native village corporation for Dillingham.
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