Alaska Teens Come to Washington, Lobby Against Pebble Mine

A group of Alaska teenagers met with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) June 12 and asked that she help stop the planned Pebble Mine, but were left disappointed by the senator’s unwillingness to make any commitments.

The seven teens visited Murkowski in her Washington, D.C., office for half an hour to talk not only about the proposed massive gold, copper, and molybdenum mine, but also about climate change more broadly.

“Senator Murkowski did not commit to opposing Pebble Mine,” said Jasmine Ieremia, 18, of Petersburg, in the Alaskan panhandle. “She said we cannot trade one resource for another, and that it is the responsibility of our generation to find solutions to the issues that we face.”

Gabriel Stenek, 18, of the island town of Shishmaref, echoed that sentiment.

‘Hoping to Get a Promise’
“I was hoping to get a promise or compromise about publicly opposing Pebble Mine, or saying more about how she’s working very hard to stop climate change,” he said.

Eve Downing, 17, of Sterling, near Anchorage, said that although lawmakers are under pressure from many sides, “we as a group felt that solid answers about what steps we have to take to preserve our state and future is not a controversial issue.”

Murkowski didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Broadly, the teens argued that the mine would endanger the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery. The Pebble Partnership and its owner, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., say the mine would be built and run in an environmentally safe way that would not harm the water or land, and would create jobs in Alaska.

‘Influenced and Inspired’
The youth-led plea, which was organized by Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, comes amid an ongoing tug of war over Pebble Mine.

The group has brought young people to Congress before to call for action on Alaska environmental issues. But more recently, the group has drawn inspiration from the youth-led Sunrise Movement and the federal climate change lawsuit filed in 2015 by 21 young plaintiffs.

“People have been influenced and inspired by what’s going on, by the young people across the nation rising up and asking for things like the Green New Deal,” said Kengo Nagaoka, youth civic engagement coordinator for Alaska Youth for Environmental Action.

Murkowski, the powerful chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has generally supported the mine in the past, so her reluctance to make any commitments opposing it was hardly a surprise.

But Murkowski and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) have also called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend the comment period for the draft environmental impact statement, saying more time is needed to study a mine with such serious potential impacts on the environment.

The youth coalition is also meeting with Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) June 12.

Two Alaska Youth for Environmental Action staffers told Bloomberg Environment that a meeting request with Sen. Sullivan was declined. But Sullivan’s office told Bloomberg Environment it had no record of receiving a meeting request from the teens’ group.

Originally published May 4, 2019

By Stephen Lee, Bloomberg News

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