On the eve of Alaska's Democratic presidential caucuses, candidate Bernie Sanders took a stand on the proposed Pebble mine: He's strongly against the massive development.
His announcement came after his wife, Jane, spoke with Bristol Bay tribes during a Friday video conference call that substituted for a weather-canceled trip to Dillingham. Jane Sanders said in a phone interview Friday that she and her husband already had read up on the project, the biggest undeveloped gold and copper deposit in the world at the headwaters of streams that feed into Bristol Bay's world-class salmon runs. But the campaign didn't want to just issue a statement without speaking to the people of the region, she said.
The other leading Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, earlier said that she opposes the mine.
In a 1 1/2-hour, wide-ranging discussion with the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, she said, "we heard very clearly that this project would be a disaster to the local fishing economy, putting the Alaska Native community's way of life and the subsistence way of life at risk."
The salmon and herring fisheries of Bristol Bay are the largest in the nation and, she said, "they can't be compromised."
They also talked about climate change and ancestral ways, the price of fuel and the loss to a community when a school closes. She said she was surprised to learn how much climate change already affects rural Alaska. Travelers are limited by the lack of snow. The timing of salmon runs is less predictable.
She took extensive notes and said she already has shared some of what she learned with her husband.
"My job is to amplify those voices so that the rest of America can understand the impacts of the political and economic decisions we are making," Sanders said.
She also made a pitch for Sanders' vision of switching the country's main energy sources from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, an effort that could produce jobs manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels all around the country, including in rural Alaska, she said.
Tribal leaders were overjoyed with the meeting, and with Sanders' decision.
"We are so grateful that presidential candidates are willing to listen and hear what's important to our indigenous people in Bristol Bay and the issues so many of our people are facing throughout Alaska," Robert Heyano, president of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, said in a written statement.
As for Alaska salmon, Sanders said she was hoping to sample some in Dillingham but now expects to have it for dinner in Anchorage.
Bill Clinton records Alaska robocall
Meanwhile, a recorded call from former President Bill Clinton is hitting Alaska phone lines Friday, reminding voters to participate in Saturday's Democratic presidential caucuses.
"I know you don't love these calls, which is why I wish I could be in Alaska to talk to you in person," said Clinton, who said he represented the campaign of his wife, former senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton goes on to tell voters to be in line at caucus locations at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Campaign spokeswoman Gwendolyn Rocco wrote in an email that the call was going out to "thousands" of Alaskans on Friday.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing