The proponents of Ballot Measure 4 want you to believe the measure is all about the Pebble Mine. They've spent millions upon millions of dollars to try to convince you that it is. But when you actually read Measure 4 or the summary on the Aug. 26 ballot, you realize that neither Pebble, Bristol Bay nor anything specifically related to Pebble are mentioned in the initiative.
Not one word. That's because Measure 4 isn't about the Pebble Mine. It can't be. Alaska's Constitution, Article XI, Section 7, specifically prevents special or local legislation by initiative and thus requires that Measure 4 be applied statewide.
Alaska is a place where honesty and straight talk are the guiding principles. What proponents of Measure 4 are doing is creating a false perception of Measure 4 to justify their agenda without consideration for the rest of Alaska. The reason for the deception is the initiative, in truth, threatens the entire mining industry and therefore cannot be argued on its merits. In fact, Measure 4 is so poorly written that at the end of oral arguments about the measure before the Alaska Supreme Court on June 16, Justice Robert Eastaugh asked: "If it's taken us this long, all of us in this room, to figure this out, how long will it take the voters in the voting booth?"
What's also troubling about Measure 4 is the secret, unreported money funding the yes vote campaign. A Washington, D.C.-based lobbying and special interest money group called Americans for Job Security has pumped more than $1.2 million into the yes campaign. This shadow group, which has been found guilty of violating Alaska election laws in the past, refuses to disclose the source of its "soft" money.
After sifting through the rhetoric, it's important to understand what would happen in Alaska if Measure 4 became law.
First, Alaska's respected and thorough, fact-based regulatory review process would be replaced with an arbitrary, untested process. Alaska already has some of the strongest environmental regulations in the world, written to protect salmon and human health. The existing state and federal review process ensures that no permitting decision can be made until environmental studies are completed and reviewed by independent, qualified professionals. Pogo Mine, Alaska's newest mine, took over four years to be permitted. The mining industry adheres to rigorous water-quality standards and is subject to intense state and federal agency and public review. However, Measure 4 would unnecessarily replace these time-tested laws and procedures with a blank slate that would only be filled by regulations and court decisions written long after voters vote.
Second, uncertainty over Measure 4's unknown regulations risks new investment in Alaska's mining industry and thousands of existing and future jobs. Passage of Measure 4 would lead to expensive lawsuits and unnecessary red tape while the regulatory process grinds to a halt, threatening projects already under way such as Aqqaluk at Red Dog or Donlin Creek, a promising project in Southwest Alaska.
Good jobs, many in rural areas, would be threatened and tax revenues for communities would be lost. Further, mining has a positive ripple effect on the state's economy, purchasing supplies and services from hundreds of Alaska businesses statewide, urban and rural. Mining supports over 5,500 jobs in 100 communities and generates hundreds of millions of dollars per year in state and local taxes, which helps build schools, roads and health care facilities. These benefits will be sacrificed if Measure 4 passes.
Alaska has a rich tradition of balancing the utilization of the state's vast natural resources while protecting our environment. Sadly, Measure 4 is not about Pebble, or salmon or even water, for that matter. It is about politics. It cynically creates false perceptions of one potential mining project with the goal of pitting Alaskans against one another in order to advance a narrow agenda. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing that will threaten existing mines and thousands of working Alaskans. Protect Alaska, vote no on 4.
Cynthia Toohey, RN, chair of Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown, is a former state legislator from Anchorage and part owner of the Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood. Jim Whitaker has served as Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor since 2003 and previously was a state legislator from Fairbanks.
By CYNTHIA TOOHEY and JIM WHITAKER
Alaska Dispatch Publishing