For those of you who read yesterday’s post, you got to know Scott Hed, the Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska. Today we have the second part of the interview where Scott assesses the current status of the Pebble Mine campaign and answers my question of if he believes Bristol Bay will get the protection it deserves.
“I always tell people that to do this kind of work, being an optimist is practically a requirement. In the past 2 years, Pebble has gone from being a hypothetical threat to a real and serious one. People may think that the Pebble fight is over, that we won the battle a few years back. Over the course of this long-running battle, the momentum has certainly ebbed and flowed. After many years of hard work by a lot of dedicated, passionate, and smart people (much more so than me, to be truthful…I’m a role player on an awesome team) we seemed like we were on the doorstep of a monumental fisheries conservation victory in 2014-15. EPA had issued a set of common-sense restrictions on disposal of mine waste in two of Bristol Bay’s most productive watersheds. Of course, Pebble didn’t like that, so they filed several lawsuits against EPA – all but one of which were dismissed or dropped. That remaining lawsuit had the effect of running out the clock on the Obama administration, and Pebble got new life with the election of President Trump in late 2016. That election is why Bristol Bay is at serious risk. Pebble is forging ahead in the permitting process thanks to this administration.
In early 2017, the new EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, met with Pebble’s CEO (a meeting set up by the lobby firm that at the time employed the current acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, by the way) and quickly settled that outstanding lawsuit. Pebble must have felt like the political stars would never be as well-aligned as they were, so they finally submitted permit applications for a very disingenuous mine plan late in 2017. They’re essentially applying for an “entry level” project to mine a small portion of the large Pebble deposit – just trying to get their foot in the door, with no intention of stopping there. Why else would they need a 270 megawatt power plant fed by a 180-mile natural gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula? They continue to tout the overall size of the deposit when trying to find new investors. The sad fact of the matter is, for some reason that is extremely hard to understand, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seems hell-bent on carrying the water for a puny little mine promoter out of Canada that can’t find or keep a major financial backer. The Corps is fast-tracking Pebble’s permit application on a timeline that is pretty blatantly driven by politics and not normal due process, pushing to get to a point where they could issue the critical permit in 2020. Hmmm…isn’t there a presidential election that year? C’mon man. How exactly is putting the world’s biggest wild salmon fishery at risk – that happens to be American, in Alaska you know – which contributes $1.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy and employs 14,000 people…how is that making America great again? It blows my mind. You’d think President Trump’s attitude would be exactly the opposite and he should revel in defending American jobs from foreign threats. Not to mention certain of the President’s offspring are fond of posting their fishing pictures from Bristol Bay on social media. People probably think this is a no-brainer and there’s no way a project so ludicrous as Pebble could ever get built, but the next couple years present the greatest risk to Bristol Bay. At the state level, things are no better, as Alaska’s new governor is picking agency leaders from the ranks of Pebble alumni. Seriously, the nominee for an agency that would be responsible for granting many of Pebble’s necessary state permits previously worked for Anglo American (former partner in the project that bailed after investing hundreds of millions of dollars in it) and the Resource Development Council in Alaska. The foxes are guarding the hen house – hell, they’re inside it; the threat is very real and extremely serious.
This campaign is so strong because it was born in Bristol Bay, with a unification of the user groups of the region who’ve traditionally been at odds when it came to salmon matters. The Alaska Native subsistence users, the commercial fishing industry, and the sport fishing interests have worked in concert to defend this resource – and that’s a pretty rare occurrence anywhere. It’s incredibly motivating and it has allowed us to amplify that passion by bringing in allies from across the country and, indeed, the globe. Bristol Bay’s wild salmon fishery literally is a one-in-the-world resource. So long as we keep fighting with everything we’ve got, every step of the way, we can still win this battle. This is one we simply cannot lose. If something like Pebble can be built in a place like Bristol Bay, I fear that everything is on the table. If not in Bristol Bay, where do you draw the line? Pebble will always be the wrong mine in the wrong place.”
How can interested folks get involved and help protect the fisheries of Alaska? Make sure to stay engaged in the public processes that determine the fate of these resources. This year will offer comment periods on both the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay and management of the Tongass National Forest. You’ve likely done it a time or six before, but we have to keep telling our public officials that these places must be protected. Weigh in during official comment periods, and also tell your members of Congress about these issues. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss making a tax-deductible donation.
Thank you again to Scott for taking the time out of his busy schedule to update us on this important issue that would greatly affect the fisheries in Alaska. We all appreciate your hard work in trying to ensure that Bristol Bay receives the protection it deserves!
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