Reactions and Reflections from a Week of Fishing: The Pebble Mine

Reactions and Reflections from a Week of Fishing: The Pebble Mine

August 6, 2020

I took some time away from my work with Power The Future last week to recharge and rest.  My family and I spent a week outside of Sterling, Alaska, on the banks of the Kenai River. I decided before leaving for vacation that – aside from catching my limit of three sockeye salmon each day – my “work” for the week would be to ask people about themselves; their jobs, their families, and their views on life. 

I spent nearly 40 hours fishing last week and talked with over 100 people while doing so.  Some were Alaskans, some weren’t.  Here are some thoughts from the banks of the Kenai on the Pebble Mine:

I freely admit that I am a Pebble Mine advocate. Heck, my boat even has multiple “Pro Pebble” decals attached to it (designed to elicit a response from the many guides who proudly tout “No Pebble” stickers on their own boats).  That aside, this wasn’t about my views or my championing of the project; I wanted to see what people knew about it, and how the millions of dollars the eco-Left has spent vilifying the project was affecting people’s opinions.

I talked with 37 people – by far the highest number of conversations on any topic of the week – who had an opinion on Pebble.  22 were from Alaska, ranging from guides and their clients to local area fishermen, to “weekend warrior” types, who come from Anchorage or the Mat-Su Valley to fish on the majestic Kenai.  15 were from Outside, most brought to the bank on charters with the same guides noted above.  Although I didn’t keep track of everyone’s hometown, I do know I talked with folks from Montana, Illinois, Florida and Alabama, in addition to a couple from New Zealand.

The fascinating take-away from these discussions – some brief, some ten minutes or more – was how many people actually knew facts about Pebble.  31 of the 37 (20 Alaskans, 11 from Outside) told me they had heard of Pebble, but of those, 27 knew where the mine was generally located in southwest Alaska.  25 could identify that it was a copper and/or gold mine (only two (Alaskans) knew that it also holds a world-class molybdenum deposit).  Whether educated on the mine by the eco-extremist naysayers or the pro-mining groups, it is clear that Pebble isn’t under the radar.

I asked each of the 31 who had heard of Pebble was what their initial thoughts were on the mine.  16 said they were generally against it (nine Alaskans, seven from Outside).  Six (three Alaskans, and three Outsiders, including the couple from New Zealand, whose son worked in a mine in Australia) were pro-Pebble.  Nine had no opinion or were on the fence (eight from Alaska, and a lone Outside gentleman from Illinois, who told me “I don’t know jack about mining.  I can’t make an educated decision on something that Alaskans should decide and I know nothing about.”)

The negative comments on the mine ranged from “Wrong place, wrong mine”, which echoed former US Senator Ted Stevens from years ago, to “Mining is evil” to “Fish are way more important to the world than a bunch of rocks.” 

Pro-Pebble comments focused on the jobs, with one Alaskan telling me “My son worked in Bristol Bay on a cannery slimeline for two summers, and outside of those ten weeks, the guy he became closest to during that time goes home to his village and suffers, without a job, without a chance at one.  I know he’d jump at the chance to take a regular paycheck home.”  The husband and wife from New Zealand were vehement supporters of a mining lifestyle, with the wife saying “Our son is 27, has worked in the mine for five years since graduating from University, and makes three times what most of his friends do.  He’s bought a house, is getting married, has no other debt, and lives a wonderful life because of mining.  If Alaska has a chance to add those types of jobs, they should do it right away.”

The fight over Pebble wasn’t going to be decided on the banks of the Kenai.  Although the final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was released on the first day of my break, and the Record of Decision (ROD) should be out in the next couple of months, the anti-Pebble forces will continue to obstruct the process with lawsuits, misinformation and outright lies about the potential impact of the project. 

The 1,000 or so year-round, six-figure jobs that Pebble would bring to one of the most impoverished areas of Alaska, coupled with the benefits to the local and state economies and the enormous impact of American-mined copper, gold and molybdenum on ending reliance on China and other unfriendly-to-the-US countries, makes Pebble a project that Power The Future will continue to fight for.