Opinion: Alaska can’t afford careless oversight of mines

The Pebble Mine permitting process stinks.

  • By EVERETT THOMPSON
  • Tuesday, February 22, 2022 12:39pm
  • Opinion

It’s a recurring theme with Pebble Mine these days: Paid Pebble Limited Partnership lobbyist’s being appointed to head environmental protection agencies at both the state and federal levels. From where I sit in Bristol Bay, I’m feeling like the interests of myself and other Alaskans are not going to be accounted for when these former Pebble employees, now government officials, get out their pens to sign off on state and federal permits for Pebble.

You would think I was making this stuff up — I am not. President Donald Trump appointed fat cat coal mining and oil lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to further destroy, I mean, “direct” the Environmental Protection Agency, while here at home in Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has appointed longtime mining cheerleader and former Pebble Mine employee Jason Brune to “lead” the Alaska agency tasked with protecting clean water, the Department of Environmental Conservation.

[Opinion: Fishermen need Sen. Murkowski’s support against Pebble Mine]

Make no mistake about it, the fix is in and the state and federal government unfortunately is not here to help. After a shady backroom deal between new Pebble boss Tom Collier and former EPA Director Scott Pruitt, Pebble Mine came back to life against the objections of local communities, fishing groups and stakeholders nationwide. Pruitt resigned only a few months later with 13 individual ongoing legal and ethical investigations. Enter Andrew Wheeler, a Washington, D.C. lobbyist formerly on the Pebble payroll himself, sent in to finish the job and steamroll any development with the EPA’s stamp of approval.

Here at home, pro-Pebble Mine enthusiast Brune has been nominated to run the DEC. How fitting, right? This department will be responsible for a range of Pebble permits and Brune is an avid mine supporter. It’s abundantly clear that, if confirmed, Brune will rubber stamp and fast track Pebble’s state permits. Alaskans deserve an unbiased permitting process and the Legislature has the power to deny this confirmation. Brune’s next hearing in front of the Legislature is today at 1:30 p.m. in front of the House Resources Committee.

[‘Surfing the salmon’ wave in Bristol Bay]

This whole thing stinks. The so-called “fair process” that is supposed to determine whether a gold and copper mine can safely be permitted in Bristol Bay is broken and corrupt. Alaskans, science, history and common sense are being tossed aside. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan and the Alaska Legislature should exercise some oversight and bring back trust that has been eroded over time, like our shoreline or an abandoned tailings dam.

Don’t fall for the revisionist history version of events coming from Pebble that the last administration’s EPA came and rode in out of nowhere to preemptively veto the mine before permit applications were submitted. It was our local Bristol Bay communities and fishing groups who’ve asked the EPA to intervene only after the state of Alaska would not listen to our concerns and took no action after they had allocated funds for their own environmental study.

[At town hall, Juneau residents worry about budget cuts]

The EPA produced an incredibly robust peer reviewed Watershed Assessment that showed a mine of any size in this place would do irreparable harm to the region’s fisheries, even Pebble’s smaller starter mine. Now we have a shoddy and incomplete Environmental Impact Statement being rushed out even during the recent government shutdown. One has to wonder, what’s the rush? It certainly couldn’t be the $12.5 million in bonuses on the line for Collier if he gets this thing permitted before the end of 2020, could it?

Don’t get me wrong, mining has a place in Alaska but we can’t afford careless oversight of the mines we have and others coming up in full force. The future of our communities and way of life depend on strong stewardship of the land and water, and the people are the stewards of this land. The last time Alaskans had the opportunity to weigh in on Brune’s confirmation, they turned out more than 10-to-1 against his confirmation. I hope they hear from even more Alaskans this time around.


• Everett Thompson is a fifth generation Bristol Bay fisherman, a Bristol Bay Native Corporation shareholder and member of the Naknek Native Village tribe. This year is his 36th consecutive season fishing in Bristol Bay where plans to have his children on deck. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.


More in Opinion

Web
Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: SEARHC’s goals seem likely to limit, rather than expand, health options in Juneau

Max Mertz’s comments at the Bartlett Regional Hospital public forum about SEARHC’s… Continue reading

Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30. (Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times)
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

“Alaska Republicans back Trump after historic conviction in hush money case,” the… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: Allow locals to have their town back once a week during the summer

Perhaps Nate Vallier shrugs when he sees eagles and bears (My Turn,… Continue reading

Juneau School District administrators and board members listen to a presentation about the district’s multi-million deficit during a Jan. 9 meeting. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
My Turn: School board recall not a cure for ‘failure to thrive’

Decline happens over time. Kinda like the way we gain weight and… Continue reading

Two skiers settle into a lift chair as they pass trees with fresh snow at Eaglecrest Ski Area on Dec. 20, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
My Turn: Eaglecrest Ski Area attempting to do too much without sensible leadership

Ever wonder what the 50-year-old clearcut above the beginner slopes at Eaglecrest… Continue reading

A Carnival cruise ship is berthed Juneau’s cruise ship docks during the summer of 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Ignoring the consequences of ship-free Saturdays?

Backers of a cruise initiative to block large cruise ships from docking… Continue reading

Juneau School District administrators and board members review the updated budget for the current fiscal year during a Board of Education meeting April 16 at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
My Turn: School board recall is about more than ‘angry moms set on being vengeful’

It’s time to set the record straight about the school board recall.… Continue reading

The 1,094-foot-long Norwegian Bliss docks in Juneau on April 9 to begin this year’s cruise ship season. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
My Turn: Consider the far-reaching and harmful consequences of Saturday cruise ship ban

The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council expresses our strong support for Protect… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: Don’t believe doom-and-gloom predictions for ship-free Saturdays

As a 54-year resident of Juneau I have seen the summer cruise… Continue reading

About 20 people gather in Marine Park at midday April 9 for a rally calling for a ban on large cruise ships on Saturdays in Juneau. Some of the participants are members of a committee planning to gather signatures for a petition to put the question on the ballot for local voters. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Cruise ship free Saturdays seems like a reasonable compromise

Three years ago, I opposed the local initiatives to limit cruise ship… Continue reading