The Donlin Mine: Alaska’s Latest Poster Child for Reckless Development
Alaskans are blessed with an abundance unlike anywhere else. And that abundance translates to a richness of life we all savor.  It’s hard to find anyone who voted for Trump […]
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Alaskans are blessed with an abundance unlike anywhere else. And that abundance translates to a richness of life we all savor. 

It’s hard to find anyone who voted for Trump or Biden who disagrees: we all love Alaska.

So, why are we squandering this rich legacy for short term profit? And why are we allowing the vast majority of our resource wealth to leave the state without benefiting Alaskans? 

As Alaskans, we have a choice.  We can live within and maintain the natural systems that sustain us. Or we can deplete and dominate and abuse them, then pretend they’ll support us when we’re done.

Today, we’re clearly following the latter path.

That’s why it’s so confusing to hear Alaska politicians tout our state’s “world class” regime for managing our fish and game resources. Anyone with their eyes open can see our fisheries and wildlife continue to struggle across the state, especially as global warming marches on.  

In Cook Inlet alone we’ve watched our clams, crab, shrimp and scallops disappear in a matter of decades; our herring and salmon are on the ropes; and the Cook Inlet Beluga whale is teetering on the edge of extinction.

Does that sound like a successful resource management program to you?

While there are many examples where our state government is failing us, there’s none perhaps greater than the proposed Donlin open pit gold mine along the shores of the Kuskokwim River in southwest Alaska. 

In late May, ADEC Commissioner Jason Brune threw any semblance of honest decision making under the bus when he ignored the findings of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and ruled the Donlin mine would comply with state water quality standards (the ALJ had found “state water quality standards for mercury will undeniably be exceeded by the project in numerous locations, in many instances by a significant degree”).

There was only one problem with Brune’s findings: Donlin’s own Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concedes the project will in fact violate water quality standards for mercury and other toxic metals.

Back in 2018, a Donlin spokesman made a surprisingly honest revelation.  He said “[p]rojects go into the process of getting a permit with the expectation of getting a permit.” 

Translation: Outside corporations believe they have a right to get a permit to exploit our natural resources for their private profit.

A Usibelli Coal spokesperson put it even more bluntly:  “[b]y definition, a permitting process is intended to permit an activity. The opposite of permitting an activity would be denial of an activity. Alaska does not have a denial system — it has a permitting system.”

In other words, a permitting system is designed to issue permits. It’s not called a “water quality protection system.” Or a “fisheries protection program.”

No, it’s called a permitting system. And Brune did what any compliant bureaucrat does in a permitting system: he issued the permit. 

Facts and science and fish and Alaskans be damned.