As Alaska girds for a future without the wave of petrodollars that fueled our early years, it’s time we decide how best to protect and develop the incredible natural resources that make the Great Land unique.
A new report makes clear that hard rock mining will not fill the fiscal gap left by flagging oil and gas production and revenues. The report – entitled “The Role of Metal Mining in the Present & Future Alaska Economy” – also notes the significant socioeconomic and environmental costs large metal mines push onto local people and communities.
“Alaska is now in dire fiscal straits,” said Tom Power, Principal Author & Economist at Power Associates and Economics Professor Emeritus at the University of Montana. “But it’s unrealistic to think metal mining can fill the void left by declining oil and gas revenues.”
And while the need for metals in the coming transition to a clean energy economy has sparked renewed interest from the mining industry, the significant costs that large, open pit mining operations pose to Alaska’s sustainable fish and water resources remains a serious concern.
“The social and environmental costs of metal mining to local communities is extraordinarily high,” said Power. “The financial returns to state and local economies do not begin to make up for these often hidden costs, especially if mining impacts sustainable industries where they operate.”
For example, the massive Donlin and Pebble mines would invariably pollute vast stretches of water and habitat that support strong and sustainable sport, commercial and subsistence economies. In fact, a recent analysis found that Bristol Bay’s sustainable resources drive more than $2 billion in economic value into the region every year.
That’s why it makes little sense to jeopardize strong and sustainable economies based around renewable resources and local people with the boom-and-bust development that we get from mining finite resources.
This disconnect becomes even more glaring when we consider the fact that taxes on Outside mining corporations have not changed since before statehood.
Alaska stands today at a crucial crossroad, and we have to decide whether we double down on the failed economic policies of the past – and the pollution and resource destruction they bring – or embrace a truly sustainable future that relies on metals we’ve already produced and protects the very things that make Alaska unique.
Whichever path we take, however, one thing is clear: Outside mining corporations and more giant open pit mines will not be our savior.