My friend and fellow fisherman, Everett Thompson, and I agree on many things, and as Alaskans we also disagree on things, too. Most recently, he wrote a My Turn for the Empire on March 15 against the new leadership of the federal and state environmental agencies.
The headline to his article — “Alaska can’t afford careless oversight of mines” — libels the hard-working staff at the range of regulatory agencies responsible for reviewing, regulating and ultimately approving a mine at Pebble, should it meet all standards and criteria for responsible development in Alaska. The last time I checked, the law is the law. This means that any potential proponent of development must meet the criteria, spelled out in statute, before a project can advance. It also means that a company must comply with the rules or face revocation of its permits to operate.
I can say with certainty that the state of Alaska is not going to “rubber stamp” permits for Pebble. Each agency will do its diligence and review permit applications it receives. They will analyze the technical and environmental information presented by the applicant to determine if it meets the agency’s requirements. But don’t take my word for it — do your homework and ask the people who regulate if they just “rubber stamp” the things they work on.
What really troubles me about Thompson’s attack on Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner designee Jason Brune is that I know Brune, who he is and what he stands for. Many who are attacking Brune because he once worked for one of the partners in the Pebble Partnership (never directly for Pebble) have not taken time to visit Brune to find out what makes him tick. Had they or Thompson done this, they might be surprised. They will find someone who is passionate about Alaska and his family. He is passionate about what it takes to make our economy work and he is proud of Alaska’s record as a world leader in how to do things right.
Now, full disclosure, I don’t know Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler. I asked around the office about his role at Pebble and calling him someone who was “on the payroll” had everyone scratching their heads because no one has ever had a conversation with him. I did find out that an associate of his made a phone call and attended a meeting. From what I can tell, Wheeler is knowledgeable about the EPA and the multitude of issues they oversee. He will rely on technical staff, the law and regulations when making decisions about all matters.
Thompson also says he likes mining, but I have yet to have him tell me which Alaska mine he is proud to support. I support all of them that meet our rules, stay in compliance, coexist with the fisheries, and most importantly, put locals to work. The Bristol Bay region I share with Thompson, and many more, is hurting. Sure, there is some bustle during the fishing season as Thompson and I battle with others to fill our nets. But in the dark of winter or for those without fishing permits, life can be challenging. My job takes me to many communities around the region and the one thing everyone would like to see is more jobs for locals. And by jobs, they mean year-round jobs that will allow them to support their families and raise their kids.
I watched the Pebble discussion for years and realized early on that I wanted a seat at the table. I wanted to see what kind of work they were doing and why they were doing it. I wanted to ask questions about how mining works and how they believe they can meet the environmental rules that protect our fish and water. Most importantly, I wanted to get to know the people doing the work. And that’s how I first met Brune. He’s smart. He loves his family and he loves Alaska. He is also serious about whatever work he is doing and I know he will do a good job as our next DEC commissioner. Don’t take my word for it — give him a call and find out for yourself before jumping on the bandwagon against him.
• Abe Williams is a fourth generation Bristol Bay fisherman. He was born in King Salmon, Alaska and currently works as the director of regional affairs for the Pebble Project and continues to commercial fish each summer.