As commercial fishermen convene in Juneau this week for spring meetings and Sen. Lisa Murkowski delivers her annual address to the Legislature, we’ll be listening and hoping for clear indications that she has our backs when it comes to ensuring that our Bristol Bay businesses and fisheries are given a fair shake in the federal permitting underway for the proposed Pebble Mine.
In recent years, the swinging pendulum of D.C. politics has increased polarization and turned some of our nation’s most important issues and places, like Bristol Bay, into political footballs. We depend on Murkowski and the other members of our congressional delegation to be strong, independent voices for the best interests of Alaskans. As Alaskans and Bristol Bay fishermen we implore the senator to continue cutting through the shallow politics of the day and keep Alaskans’ interests paramount. We are counting on her to ensure that the Trump administration follows the law in evaluating Pebble Mine and protecting Bristol Bay. We are confident that a lawful and fair evaluation will come to the same conclusion Sen. Ted Stevens did: wrong mine, wrong place.
Bristol Bay is bigger than political ideologies. Protecting communities, jobs and sustainable economies is not Republican or Democrat: it’s Alaskan. Especially now, we all need to come together to prioritize our Alaskan way of life, and we depend on our senior senator to help lead the way.
Unfortunately, our voices are not being heard by this administration, and politics is at play in the rushed permitting process for the Pebble Mine. For example, after a single backroom meeting between the Pebble CEO and the ethically-challenged former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, the mine’s permitting process came roaring back to life in 2018. The EPA hastily settled a lawsuit brought by Pebble and revoked its own Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment that went through years of scrutiny, public process and scientific peer review. We have to wonder, what other closed-door meetings are happening now?
It typically takes at least five years to complete the environmental review for a project of Pebble’s magnitude and complexity. By some highly-suspect miracle, permitting for the proposed Pebble Mine is expected to be completed in half that time — conveniently right before the end of this presidential administration. If it’s not for expedient politics, then what’s the rush? From where we sit, the whole thing stinks to high heaven.
Public filings show that Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier will receive a $12.5 million bonus if the Army Corps completes the Environmental Impact Statement process by 2021. For Pebble and Tom Collier, getting permits before the end of 2020 is the only thing that matters — not the best interest of Alaskans. Public records also reveal that of the $11 million that Pebble spent on lobbying since 2011, more than $4 million of that has been spent since President Donald Trump took office. It’s clear that money spent on this administration is working. Regular Alaskans and Bristol Bay fishermen like ourselves are trying to keep up, even hiring our own mine experts and researchers where we can, but we can’t afford high-powered lobbyists. We need our senators’ help to stand up to the Trump/Pebble collusion that is taking place in an effort to fast-track Pebble through permitting.
By the thousands, Alaskans have testified over and over that Bristol Bay fisheries must be protected, and the most recent polling conducted by the state Senate’s Republican majority confirms that, after all these years, Alaskans still do not want the Pebble Mine. These concerns are being ignored by the Army Corps and our federal agencies. Murkowski, take a hard look for yourself and you will find that the Pebble permitting process is rigged. Please stand up for Alaskans by stopping what has been, thus far, a sham and insist for all Alaskans that this decision must be based on nothing less than transparency, science and the common of interests of Alaskans. Please represent us.
• Alexus Kwachka of Kodiak has fished 15 seasons in Bristol Bay. Jake Jacoby is in his 13th year of operating in fisheries and is also an educator who lives in Juneau. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.