Inletkeeper recently reported about Alaska’s unenviable status as the most toxic state in America due to pollution from large metal mines. Today, a new report issued today by Earthworks pulls back the curtain on Alaska’s phony permitting scheme, with key findings about pollution violations from large Alaskan mines that include:
- 100% – All five mines have experienced at least one major spill or other accidental release of hazardous materials such as mine tailings, cyanide solution, diesel fuel and ore concentrate.
- 80% – Four of the five mines failed to capture or control contaminated mine water, resulting in water quality violations that often occurred over an extended period.
- 80% – Four out of five mines have been identified by EPA as out of compliance with federal laws to protect clean air or water in the last three years.
- 80% – The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process at four of the mines underestimated water quality impacts, failing to predict violations of federal and state laws.
For years, giant mining corporations and the politicians and bureaucrats they control have fed Alaskans a false narrative. “Trust us,” they say, “Alaska has a world-class permitting system.”
But the truth is that ongoing pollution and permit violations from Alaska’s large mines are the norm, not the exception.
The fact is, we are creatures of story, and we’ve been led to believe a story about environmental protection in Alaska that’s downright false.
Stories play an outsized role in how we view our world and how we allow corporations to behave in it.
When you think about it, stories are the foundation for just about everything that binds us together as people. In fact, it’s our collective belief in story that allows us to form governments, believe in a god, or buy clothes at Walmart.
The U.S. Military and others have conducted research showing humans can self-organize in groups up to about 250 people. Within that group size, we can form the relationships, engage in the conversations and build the trust needed to make collective decisions.
But when we get to larger groups – including thousands or millions of people – we need something more, something to bind us together and to create a cohesiveness.
And that’s where story comes in. When you look around, most everything in our human world today is a story. Our government is a story. Religion is a story. The law is a story. And money is a story.
None of them would bring us together unless we all agreed to believe the story. It’s only our collective belief in a particular story that gives it meaning and effect, by providing the glue that binds us together in common agreement.
Imagine if I tried to pay for my groceries with Monopoly money. I’d be laughed out of the store, because our collective story does not believe in that currency.
Like any story, a large part of its meaning derives from the storyteller and how the story’s presented. And when it comes to the story about permitting large oil, gas and mining projects in Alaska, the story has largely been framed by large corporations, government bureaucrats and politicians, who tell us Alaska has a “rigorous” permitting system.
According to these story tellers, the permitting system is a fair and even-handed process; all we have to do is dot all the “I’s” and cross all the “T’s” in the permitting process, and voila! – you get fish and habitat protection.
But of course that’s patently false, because our government agencies never deny permits to large oil, gas or mining companies who spend lavishly on fancy lobbyists and “donations” to our politicians. In fact, in my 35 years participating in permitting decisions, I have never seen a government agency deny a permit to a large oil, gas or mining project. Never.
And as today’s report makes clear, large mining companies see pollution and environmental violations as simply part of doing business in Alaska.
So, we’ve been fed a false narrative about how the permitting system works.
The truth is that Alaskans own our fish and water resources under Article VIII of the Alaska Constitution, and while we have a right to use these resources responsibility, we have a corresponding obligation to protect them for those who come after us.
That means it’s our right as Alaskans whether or not to grant the social license to a foreign mining company to profit off our minerals and to pollute our fish and water resources.
Now, it’s time to change the permitting story in Alaska, and it’s up to every Alaska to dispel the myths around permitting large mines in the Last Frontier. Because the story we’ve been fed to date will only create more Superfund sites for our kids.