Anti-Pebble Movement Won’t Accept the Science They Said for Years to Trust

Anti-Pebble Movement Won’t Accept the Science They Said for Years to Trust

June 22, 2022

The earliest modern settlers to Alaska arrived because of a dream of getting rich from newly-discovered gold deposits.  Coming from all over North America in the late 1800s to stake their claims, they built towns from Nome in the northwest to Skagway in the southeast of the state. 

Alaska’s vast and expansive mineral resources have helped sustain families and communities since; bringing regional economic opportunities to areas burdened by staggering unemployment and generational poverty.  Look no further than the Red Dog Mine, located north of the Arctic Circle, the nation’s largest zinc developer and a job boon for the residents in and around the site.  The mine’s partnership with NANA, the regional Alaska Native corporation, brought local hire preferences to the project.  NANA shareholders make up more than half of its workforce, allowing the region to thrive economically, even as other regions still suffer.

Further south in the state, near (but still over 100 air miles away from) Bristol Bay sits a swath of State of Alaska-owned land bursting at the seams with copper, gold, molybdenum and rhenium deposits.  The Pebble prospect could provide Red Dog-like impact to a region that sorely needs it. Current official unemployment percentages hover near 10%, but that doesn’t account for a larger share of residents who have given up hope for the scarce jobs in many villages.

The Pebble prospect could help; many of its full-time jobs (the mine estimates full-time employment of 500-700 people) could be filled by regionally-based employees, the same way Red Dog is today.  Its proposed 20-year mining plan could provide jobs that would break the cycle of generational struggle and insufficiency.

But the project sits in limbo, all because of an exceptionally well-organized and well-funded misinformation campaign, coupled with hypocritical political hijinks.  For over 15 years, this combination has waged a public-relations war on Pebble and its developers, demonizing the mine before it could even write a formal development plan.  Their main goal?  Thwart the prospect and save the world-class Bristol Bay fishery, which they claim would be irreparably harmed by a near-guaranteed environmental catastrophe, should Pebble be approved.

The opponents to the project have, for years, claimed science should rule the day on whether the project should be approved.  They commissioned studies from fisheries scientists, hydrologists, wildlife biologists and others, which all aligned with their message that Pebble couldn’t be built or run without danger to the Bristol Bay fishery.  Many of those studies were released over a decade ago, before Pebble’s developers finalized and presented the mine plan to the federal government, and were based off of supposition and ‘what-if’ scenarios, rather than actual data.

On July 24, 2020, after a multi-year study, public engagement and scientific review period, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the Pebble prospect.  It concluded that Pebble could be designed, built and operated with minimal impact to the Bristol Bay fishery.

The response from the activists battling Pebble was a combination of disbelief and defiance.  They attacked the Corps’ methodologies and its findings. They tried to undermine the very science and review procedures they’d counted on and messaged to for nearly 15 years.  Then they enlisted powerful political figures to try to undermine the process and overthrow the outcomes.

To date, they’ve succeeded. Members of Congress – including Alaska’s U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski – has toyed with the idea of legislating permanent protection for the area, conveniently forgetting that the project is on state land, and that 10th-Amendment rights would certainly be mauled with such a move. 

The EPA recently announced it was moving forward with a process-assaulting move known formally as a ‘proposed determination’, but commonly known as a ‘preemptive veto’ of the project.  A comment period on the EPA’s proposed action ends July 5th (you can file your comments here), after which they could announce their decision at any time.

The mine would be a good thing for the region, the state and our nation.  Power The Future has engaged with the Pebble project’s developers, visited the proposed mine site numerous times, spoken with residents in the region and thoroughly read the Corps’ FEIS.  We are unapologetically advocates for the opportunity, jobs, state and local revenues, and domestic supply-chain advancements possible with development of the Pebble prospect.  We have submitted comments to the EPA and will stay involved in the process as it weaves its way through innumerable landmines to what we hope is a positive conclusion.