The proposed Pebble mine in southwest Alaska stands out for a variety reasons, including the fact it would be the first large-scale, open pit mine in the headwaters of the Bristol Bay – the richest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.
But with the recent release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project, Pebble gains another dubious distinction: it’s the fastest EIS process for a large project since Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act in 1970.
We know the Trump Administration prides itself on regulatory rollbacks and sham environmental reviews. But the Pebble EIS takes this “streamlining” notion to a new and absurd level.
Pebble submitted its application to fill Alaska wetlands and fish habitat December 22, 2017, which is when the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) got formal notice to start the EIS process. So, in less than a year, the Corps worked with a contractor to cobble together pieces of an EIS, which it started to dribble out to cooperating state and federal agencies in Fall 2018.
Now let’s be clear here: the Pebble mine is a complex project in a highly sensitive area, and the mine proponent – the Pebble Limited Partnership – has changed the configuration of the mine, and its transportation corridor, numerous times over the past several years. So, to think the Corps could conduct a meaningful review of the multitude of uncertainties and reasonably foreseeable impacts around this project in this short time frame is nothing short of ludicrous.
Many ask why Pebble and the Corps would be working in concert to ram through the EIS, and there are two simple reasons. First, the Pebble people see political alignment. With the Trump and Dunleavy Administrations in power, they know now is the time to put the pedal to the floor and drive over the strong majority of Alaskans who oppose the mine in order to secure necessary permits. Second, Tom Collier, the CEO of the Pebble Partnership, stands to gain up to $12.5 million in what are called “extraordinary bonuses” if Pebble gets its permits in an expedited fashion.
In this permitting stampede, however, one thing gets lost: Alaska’s states’ rights. For years we’ve heard the sky-is-falling alarms from our state politicians, lamenting the heavy hand of federal “overreach” in Alaska resource management. “Alaska knows best,” they say, and “we should manage our resources at the state level.”
So now, with the federal government ramming through permits on a project opposed by most Alaskans, why are our state agencies responsible with protecting our public resources bowing-down to the dictates of the federal government?
We asked this very question to Doug Vincent Lang, the new Commissioner to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Alaskans who work in fish and game protection know Lang’s long-time association with pro-extraction groups, like the Resource Development Council of Alaska. Nonetheless, it was still surprising when Lang responded to our letter saying, ADFG will “do our best professional job within the timelines established” by the federal Army Corps.
What? After years and years decrying the ham-fisted tactics of the feds in Alaska resource management, our Commissioner of Fish & Game all the sudden is fine with handing over our sovereignty as a state to an expedited federal permitting schedule?
But the truth plays out when we understand what’s actually happening in ADFG, as state biologists and managers struggle to comment on the discombobulated permitting process coming at them from the federal Corps. One revealing email notes the Corps hoped to give ADFG TWO WEEKS to review and comment on the entire Pebble EIS. Two weeks! It goes on to note “the consensus [in ADFG] is that there is no way for the department to conduct a thorough and defensible review [of the EIS] within that timeframe.”
So, there you have it. Our state will stand-up for our states’ rights unless it’s inconvenient to large scale resource development, and then, our state agencies will simply roll over and let the feds tell us how to develop our resources.
In the end, however, we have to remember this: we Alaskans own our public resources under our Alaska Constitution, and our state bureaucrats are charged as trustees to manage them responsibly for current and future generations. So, speak out, email Doug Vincent Lang, ask him how ADFG could possibly do a meaningful review in the few weeks timeframe mandated by the federal government? And why, as an Alaskan, he would tolerate this federal overreach?