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.
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.
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.
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.