No to Pebble Mine

During my 24-years in the Alaska legislature, which included a stint as Senate president, I was a staunch pro-mining member of the Republican majority, and one who placed a high priority on oil, gas, mining and other resource development. In fact, I still believe development of our natural resources is good for Alaska and good for America.

But one proposed mine, of such unimaginable size in the absolutely worst possible location, forced me to rethink my “all growth is good and all regulations are bad” approach to resource issues.

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The now infamous proposal for Pebble Mine, located at the headwaters of magnificent Bristol Bay, Alaska, is so large and poses such a risk to fisheries, jobs, and a unique way of life that it made me do what I at one time would have thought was impossible: support the Environmental Protection Agency in its efforts to use the federal Clean Water Act to protect this one-of-a-kind place.

After nearly a decade of promising to come clean with the people of Bristol Bay, the mine’s backer, the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), continues to drag its feet, leaving local communities in the dark as to its intentions. This has led to economic uncertainty and has strained the social fabric of our communities. 

The time has come to put an end to this debate; Bristol Bay is no place for North America’s largest open pit mine and the billions of tons of toxic waste it would create.

The EPA’s scientific review of Pebble and its potential effects on the Bristol Bay fishery has been a remarkably thorough and transparent process, with rigorous scientific peer review. This is in stark comparison to the State of Alaska, which has repeatedly ignored the concerns of locals.

The fact is, every time Bristol Bay residents made a move to question the merits of the mine, the state joined with Pebble’s backers, effectively serving as a co-conspirator with foreign miners. For nearly a decade the state has turned a blind eye to the concerns of the people with the most to lose.

The choice to ask for help from the EPA was an easy one, because it was the only one. In fact, the original tribal and local request for EPA action was joined by all of the state legislators representing the Bristol Bay region; a bipartisan show of support.

Clearly, the last year has not been good for those bent on building Pebble and changing Bristol Bay forever. The peer-reviewed science has shown the Pebble Mine will likely cause real and lasting harm to the Bristol Bay fishery; repeated polls have shown a majority of Alaskans oppose the mine; and Pebble’s two major financial backers - industry giants Anglo American and Rio Tinto - have walked away from the project.

All these setbacks have led to a profound change in the tactics employed by the Pebble Limited Partnership, which is now resorting to lawsuits and relying on some in Congress to do their bidding.

PLP recently filed suit against the EPA and sought a preliminary injunction against any further action via the Clean Water Act, and it has lobbied hard in DC for legislation aimed at silencing voices of the people in Bristol Bay. 

In fact, this week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed legislation that would effectively halt the EPA’s work in Bristol Bay, ironically titled the Regulatory Certainty Act. This wrongheaded legislation would only increase uncertainty or the people of Bristol Bay who have lived with the threat of the Pebble Mine for a decade.

These developments, made on the behalf of a Canadian company which has never actually built or operated a mine, are clearly not based on what is best for Alaska nor Alaskans.

As a state legislative leader, I actually supported litigation against the EPA on more than one occasion. But the truth is, EPA is acting prudently in response to a unique Alaskan concern.

I continue to have faith that science and the will of local people will prevail over the manipulations of a foreign mining company willing to destroy the world’s greatest wild sockeye salmon fishery.

I never thought I’d say it, but the Environmental Protection Agency is our best hope for ensuring Bristol Bay is protected for future generations.

Halford, who works as a paid consultant for Trout Unlimited on its Save Bristol Bay Campaign, retired from the Alaska Senate in 2003. During that time, he served as an RNC committeeman for Alaska, and the Alaska Miners Association was among his most consistent supporters.