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Don’t be misled: Pebble’s permitting process is broken

  • Author: George Alexie
    | Opinion
    , Thomas Tilden
    | Opinion
  • Updated: November 17, 2019
  • Published November 17, 2019

Aerial view of Dillingham on Tuesday, August 27, 2013. (BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News)

As elected leaders of our tribal governments, we have a duty to our people and to the public to tell the truth. An advertisement in the Anchorage Daily News on Nov. 6, paid for by Pebble Limited Partnership, used the logos of our tribes without permission, accompanied by the statement that the permitting process for Pebble’s proposed mine is working. This ad gave the impression that our tribal governments support the work that the Army Corps of Engineers has done on Pebble’s environmental review to date. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our tribes have been part of this process from the start. And let us tell you: The process is broken and it should not be trusted.

The use of our logos seems intended to give our approval of the environmental review. Pebble did not ask for permission to use our logos, and we wouldn’t have granted it if they had.

Curyung Tribal Council and Nondalton Tribal Council have participated in the federal environmental review process as cooperating agencies. That means we have had the opportunity to weigh in on the internal deliberations behind the Environmental Impact Statement, which is intended to be a thorough review of the project and its potential impacts, and see what is happening behind the scenes on Pebble’s review.

We took on this work because our people are the experts on our cultures, ways of life and dependence on the natural resources here in Bristol Bay and because we understand the grave importance of the decisions being made today for future generations. We have specialized knowledge of the region and our peoples that is critical for understanding the project’s impacts, and we believe it is our role, as First Peoples and stewards of the land, to ensure that this project is thoroughly vetted.

All along the way, Pebble and the Army Corps have done their best to stifle our involvement and ignore our input. We had to fight for cooperating agency status so that our knowledge would be included in the environmental impact statement, and the permitting process in general. We submitted extensive concerns in the scoping process that were not incorporated into the draft EIS, including a request for a Human Health Impact Assessment. Throughout the process, our input has been minimized and ignored.

What we have learned is that the Army Corps is intent on rushing this process through, and there is no such thing as a “fair” review when it comes to Pebble. The process was designed from the start to minimize public input, minimize scientific and technical analysis, and gloss over the real concerns about what this mine would do to Bristol Bay.

The idea that the environmental review process is working, or has wide-spread support, is laughable. The draft EIS did not thoroughly analyze the impacts Pebble would have to our cultures and livelihoods in Bristol Bay, nor did it thoroughly analyze the other scientific and technical issues with the project. Numerous experts have said that the draft Environmental Impact Statement was inadequate. In fact, nearly every entity whose logo appears in the ad, including other federal agencies and the State of Alaska, has had major criticisms of the environmental review, some going so far as to call on the Army Corps for a complete do-over. This is not a normal permitting process. This is a rushed and politicized effort to bolster a foreign mining company at the expense of our people and communities.

Congress has taken note, with budget language and committee hearings calling out this politicized review. Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have also weighed in, highlighting the significant concerns about the process so far and the flaws in the draft EIS and calling for a more robust review of Pebble’s plan.

Pebble has been lying to the people of Bristol Bay for more than a decade, and it’s clear that they will stop at nothing to advance their project. Now they’re lying about the process and misappropriating our own names. Over and over, they have proven that they are not a company we can trust with our future in Bristol Bay.

Our tribes are hard at work developing sustainable economic opportunities and working on cultural revitalization. Guided by regional vision, we are working to support healthy families and communities. We took the time to engage in the National Environmental Policy Act process so that this work will not be thrown away simply for the short-term profits of a foreign company.

Pebble cannot be trusted. The Army Corps is bolstering the company’s efforts rather than protecting the public good or fulfilling its trust responsibility to our tribes. Our position hasn’t changed: We will not allow Pebble to be built in Bristol Bay, and we will not stop fighting until our home is protected.

Thomas Tilden is the First Chief of the Curyung Tribal Council; Curyung is the federally recognized tribe of Dillingham. George Alexie is the President of the Nondalton Tribal Council.

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