The Pebble people are pulling out all the stops. With the Trump and Dunleavy Administrations in power, Pebble knows now is the time to ram through a giant open-pit mine in the headwaters of the richest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.
But Pebble knows a strong majority of Alaskans oppose the mine. They also know the facts and science don’t support them.
So, what’s a junior mining company from Canada with zero experience operating a mine to do? Well, two things.
First, rig the game. We already know our permitting system is badly broken, and that large oil, gas and mining projects ALWAYS get the permits they need in Alaska. But when your project is truly a horrible idea – so bad that it’s already driven away four major investors – it takes a special effort.
That’s why Pebble has spent more than $11 million since 2007 to buy insider influence with high-priced DC lobbyists. In fact, Pebble has spent almost $4.5 million on lobbyists and lobbying in the DC swamp since 2016, when the Trump Administration took power.
Everyday Alaskans do not have this type of cash lying around. But when you’re a large corporation, spending millions of dollars on fancy lobbyists buys you access and influence ordinary Alaskans don’t have. Considering the fact Pebble’s mine application has raced through federal permitting reviews at record speeds, it appears their expensive gambit is paying off.
But with a project as bad as Pebble, sometimes rigging the game simply isn’t enough. That’s why the Pebble people are doubling down with a tried and true tactic: lies and misinformation.
Since Pebble reared its head more than 15 years ago, its supporters have told many lies. Today, as Pebble races to get needed permits while the Trump Administration remains in power, it’s settled on three whoppers:
Lie Number 1: “The Pebble Mine will not harm fish.” Cook Inletkeeper and others heard this claim several times from Pebble spokesman Mark Hamilton at a January 9, 2019, economic development forum in Homer. And Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier – who stands to rake-in up to $12.5 million in “extraordinary bonuses” if the mine gets permits quickly – boasts the mine “will not harm the fish and water resources in Bristol Bay.” Yet according to the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the mine will eliminate over 3,500 acres of wetlands and more than 80 miles of streams in the headwaters of Bristol Bay. These impacts vastly exceed what EPA considered acceptable to protect wild salmon when the agency conducted it’s scientifically rigorous, multi-year Bristol Bay Assessment. In other words, the Pebble mine will clearly harm wild salmon and the highly lucrative fisheries of Bristol Bay.
Lie Number 2: “We will not use cyanide for gold recovery.” Gold mines often use cyanide to enhance gold recovery, especially in low-grade deposits like Pebble. But cyanide is also highly toxic to people and fish. So, in an effort to pretend they are listening to Alaskans, Pebble is telling us it will not use cyanide. Except there’s one problem: Pebble is telling its friends in the mining industry something different. Here’s what Pebble’s Doug Allen told a group of mining executives in Vancouver this past January:
“In an effort to be responsive to the feedback we’ve received, we’ve taken cyanide out of the process flow in this permit. So …because it is such a bad word in the environmental community, in an effort to show responsiveness and to enhance the probability of us getting a permit, we have taken the secondary [cyanide] gold recovery circuit out of this. So about 12 percent of our gold would be affected by that and we hope at a later date to get permission to potentially add a secondary [cyanide] circuit but not at this time (emphasis added).” Watch the video here @ 6:02-6:42.
Lie Number 3: “We’ve reduced the size of the mine.” When it comes to impacts to water and fisheries from open pit mines, size matters. That’s why the massive size of Pebble’s original proposal drew strong opposition, and why – in a feigned effort to show community concern – Pebble reduced the mine footprint, and limited the mine life to 20 years, in its permit application. But again, what Pebble tells Alaskans is not what Pebble tells its potential investors. Here’s Pebble’s Ron Thiessen talking at the Denver Gold Forum on September 26, 2017:
“You know, and finally, this project, it’s a multi-generational opportunity. It’s size and scale will lead to a very, very long life mine and the property we have hosts showings that we’ve got drillholes in that we believe there’s other mining opportunities as well.” (@1:25-1:46)… In some respects, some of the antagonists to Pebble say that, you know, this is too much for the region, but the reality is, you know, this represents development for many years, perhaps centuries into the future. And when you build the infrastructure in there and you’ve got a concentrator you can feed it forever. (@4:33-5:55).”
Of all the Pebble lies, the “small footprint” lie may be the worst, because if you look at the map above, the Pebble deposit is surrounded by hardrock mining claims. That means once the infrastructure goes in – the roads, the ports, the mine site, the waste pits and tailings facilities – then that will be the catalyst for a massive Bristol Bay mining district.
In a resource development state like Alaska, where giant corporations have “captured” our agencies and our politicians, it’s always hard to stop large oil, gas or mining projects. When project proponents pay fancy lobbyists to grease the permitting skids, and tell outright lies to bamboozle busy Alaskans, it’s makes it all the more difficult.
But Pebble is the wrong mine, in the wrong place. It will kill fishing jobs and unravel the fabric of Bristol Bay fisheries. It’s safe to say if Pebble gets built, it will transform Alaska like no other project before it. And for that simple reason, Alaskans won’t let it happen.