Opinions

Governor’s Pebble appeal ignores the law, science and voices of Alaskans

While Alaskans are looking ahead to a bright future for Bristol Bay, Gov. Mike Dunleavy continues to look backward and is seeking to keep the proposed Pebble Mine project alive through dubious legal tactics. The latest example of this is the state’s appeal of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to deny a key Clean Water Act permit for the project. The appeal is wrong on the law. It is wrong on science. And it is wrong for Alaskans.

Let us start with the legal arguments. The applicable regulations specify that only the party denied a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit can file an administrative appeal of that decision. Corps of Engineers guidance on the appeal process is equally specific, the process “provides permit applicants with an opportunity to seek a timely and objective reconsideration of an adverse permit decision,” and “there is no third-party involvement in the appeal process itself.” This is black and white. Moreover, the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), the permit applicant, has already filed an appeal. At best, the state’s appeal is duplicative. At worst, it is an unlawful and wasteful action.

Second, the Corps’ permit denial is based on science and grounded in longstanding precedent. Pebble, even under the conservative 20-year mining plan that PLP itself acknowledges will expand considerably, would impact nearly 200 miles of streams and more than 4,500 acres of wetlands – with no plan to replace these significant losses. These streams and wetlands are part of the unique ecosystem that allows 50 million-plus sockeye salmon to return annually, supporting $1.5 billion in economic output and a millennia-old Alaska Native way of life. The Corps’ finding that the mine would cause significant damage to aquatic resources and is not in the public interest is wholly consistent with extensive scientific data and evidence.

Finally, the governor’s advocacy on Pebble’s behalf runs counter to the opinion of the people he represents. Poll after poll shows that Alaskans are opposed to the project. A mere 33% of state residents support Pebble. In Bristol Bay, approximately 80% of residents are opposed to the project. The tens of thousands of comments submitted by Alaskans during formal public comment periods confirm these sentiments. Our two Republican U.S. senators – staunch defenders of responsible resource development projects – know Pebble Mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place.

The overwhelming Alaska-based opposition to Pebble demonstrates that Gov. Dunleavy is flat wrong when he blames outside groups for Pebble’s problems. The opposition to Pebble is homegrown, centered in Bristol Bay and extends throughout Alaska. It is Alaskans foremost who want Pebble and PLP to go away.

The state of Alaska’s appeal of the Pebble permit denial is, unfortunately, no surprise. Gov. Dunleavy has long championed Pebble behind closed doors while publicly pledging neutrality. The “Pebble Tapes,” released to the public this past September and featuring recorded conversations of PLP executives, viscerally detailed the cozy relationship between these company executives and the governor. Whether it is copying PLP talking points verbatim in correspondence with the Trump administration or advocating for the project on Air Force One with the former president himself, Gov. Dunleavy has purposefully sought to advance the project.

We take the governor at his word that he wants to create economic opportunities for Bristol Bay. But it seems he is blinded by Pebble’s illusory promises. He has thus far made no effort to meet with stakeholders from our region to discuss our shared vision for sustainable and complementary economic development in Bristol Bay. The state can and should be a partner in charting the direction of the region’s economic future, but it will be a roadblock so long as the governor continues to push for a mine that risks destroying our commercial fisheries, subsistence resources and culture.

Alaska faces serious problems, such as a projected $2.1 billion deficit to a state budget already subjected to draconian cuts. We face an ongoing public health crisis in COVID-19. We face chronic economic, public health and social challenges in rural communities across the state. Gov. Dunleavy should not be wasting state resources on an action that has no standing in the law, science or the public interest. He should stop fighting Pebble’s demise and join us in securing a bright and sustainable future for Bristol Bay.

Jason Metrokin is president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corporation. Lindsay Layland is a commercial fisherman and deputy director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. Ralph Andersen is president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Association. Norm Van Vactor is president and CEO of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation.

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