“Trust the Science” is an Eco-Left Staple, at Least Until Pebble Broke Their Narrative – Part 2

“Trust the Science” is an Eco-Left Staple, at Least Until Pebble Broke Their Narrative – Part 2

June 27, 2022

Last week, we began a series on how Alaska’s Pebble Mine, a copper, molybdenum, rhenium and gold prospect in the southwest part of the state, has been fought by anti-development and commercial fishing activists for over 15 years.

The opponents have always 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. 

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 in 2020, concluding that Pebble could be designed, built and operated with minimal impact to the Bristol Bay fishery.

The opponents lost their minds, and have enlisted powerful political figures to try to shut down the mine.  To date, those efforts have succeeded.

But Power The Future is unabashedly pro-Pebble, as it would bring jobs to an area of the state desperate for them, as well as revenues and royalties to local and state government, not to mention over a trillion dollars of minerals to the domestic supply chain.  That alone should have every environmentalist in America fully supporting the project.  Instead, they gnash their teeth and decry the science.

We’re going to look over the next few days at some of the claims of the eco-Left, and point out in the actual text of the FEIS where the Army corps debunks the Left’s messaging.

TODAY’S CLAIM: The Pebble project would irreparably harm the Bristol Bay fishery.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Responses (parenthesis at the end of each statement show where in the FEIS the text can be found.  “ES” is “Executive Summary”, “#.#-#” is descriptive of the section and subsection(s) of the FEIS, “Table #” would be the table in the appendices, etc.):

Under normal operations, the alternatives would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers or result in long-term changes to the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay. (ES 87 & 4.6-3)

The mine site area is not connected to the Togiak, Ugashik, Naknek, and Egegik watersheds and is not expected to affect fish populations or harvests from these watersheds. (Table 4.6-1, P4.6-4)

The mine site is not expected to affect Cook Inlet commercial fisheries. (P. 4.6-4)

As with Alternative 1a, Alternative 3 would not be expected to measurably affect the health or value of Bristol Bay salmon fishery, including permit holder earnings, permit holder value, crew earnings, fishery first wholesale values, processor earnings, or local fiscal contributions. (4.6-18)

Impacts to Bristol Bay salmon are not expected to be measurable and given the vast breadth and diversity of habitat (and salmon populations) in the Bristol Bay watershed, impacts on the Portfolio Effect1 are certain but not likely to be noticeable in context of the Bristol Bay watershed. (4.24-47)

Other salmon fisheries in Alaska exist in conjunction with non-renewable resource extraction industries. For example, the Cook Inlet salmon fisheries exist in an active oil and gas basin and have developed headwaters of Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna areas. The Copper River salmon fishery occurs in a watershed with the remains of the historic Kennecott Copper Mine and the Trans Alaska Pipeline System in the headwaters of portions of the fishery. Both fisheries average higher prices per pound than the Bristol Bay Salmon Fishery. (ES 86)

It is clear from the vast number of statements throughout the document that the Corps was thorough and clear in its assessment of risk to the Bristol Bay fishery.  We can only hope that the politics of the day cease soon, and that Pebble’s approval comes shortly thereafter.  Alaska is a special place; one that sees world-class environmental care co-exist with responsible development every day.  It doesn’t, and shouldn’t, be a binary decision, and Pebble should be allowed to co-exist with the Bristol Bay fishery.  There isn’t a scientific reason to continue to fight the project; only an unsupportable political one.