Six rallies around the state this week have one purpose — spurring Alaska’s U.S. senators and representative to stop Pebble Mine permitting.
The U.S. House of Representative passed an amendment last week that would suspend funding for permitting for the Proposed Pebble Mine project near Bristol Bay, and a rally held outside Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Juneau office Tuesday is part of a statewide push to get the Senate to do the same.
[Live: Coverage of Pebble Mine rally]
“We need to send a message to the Trump administration, and we need to send them back to the drawing board,” said Lindsey Bloom, representative for Commercial Fisherman For Bristol Bay.
Bloom said those who oppose Pebble Mine are particularly hoping to prompt action from Murkowski, who previously wrote to the Corps of Engineers requesting an extension for public comment period on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
“We understand this is an extraordinary weight to put on one person, but that said her voice is powerful, and she speaks for so many of us and the thousands of smaller voices across Alaska who are opposed to this project and concerned about the process we’ve been given,” Bloom said. “We are asking her to channel our voices, so that we can be heard in Washington, D.C. Unlike so many modern politicians, she is and can be truly beholden to the people of Alaska. We are fortunate to have a Senator who holds to her principles.”
Murkowski’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Sullivan’s office also did not immediately respond.
Mike Heatwole, spokesperson for Pebble Partnership, which was established in 2007 to design, permit, construct and operate the proposed mine, said encouraging the senators to act in a way that would pull funding from the permitting process undermines the purpose of National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to assess environmental effects of proposed projects.
“We’re certainly hopeful the Senate will stand up for NEPA and keep politics out of permitting,” Heatwole said.
Opponents of the project opined the Corps of Engineers is politicized under the Trump Administration.
“I think that’s a charge when you don’t like the outcome,” Heatwole said.
During Tuesday’s rally, a lot of the criticism levied at the mine focused on its environmental impact and a sentiment that the scope of its negative impact on the environment — specifically salmon runs — hasn’t been fully taken into account.
”The process is completely bankrupt and Senator Murkowski needs to turn it around,” said Frank Rue, former commissioner for Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who spoke during the rally. “It is not possible to develop this mine without destroying the salmon runs in Bristol Bay.”
Bloom said no amount of engineering will change the mine’s proximity to a salmon spawn spot and wetlands.
Heatwole said more than a decade has been spent researching how the proposed mine will impact the environment.
“We understand fully the cultural and commercial importance of salmon in the Bristol Bay region,” Heatwole said.
Protecting the fish was chief concern shared by Nola Lamken, Juneau resident, and Guy Archibald, staff scientist for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. Both were among the roughly 40 rally-goers in attendance.
Archibald said he worries about consistent incremental stress on the environment, which he compared to death by 1,000 cuts.
He said constant activity at the mine would mean the environment would not have a chance to recover from the strain.
“It’s the wrong mine in the wrong place,” Archibald said. “We don’t need more metal in our lives. We can’t trade fish for more metal.”
Wrong mine, wrong place is a common refrain among those who oppose the mine. It’s a near-quote of late Sen. Ted Stevens. It was used by Joe Geldhof, who spoke during the rally, to indicate opposing the mine isn’t just a cause among liberal environmentalists.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Geldhof said. “This is not a Southeast issue. This is an Alaska issue.”
Public comment for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Draft Environmental Impact Statement closes Monday, and those at the rally said they hope elected officials make their voices heard before that window closes.
“In just a matter of days, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan will have lost the opportunity to speak up for Alaskans on Pebble Mine for this federal permit,” Bloom said. “The time is now.
She said a signal from senators that there are concerns about providing permitting to the mine would likely lead to a stall in the permitting process.
Protesters said it would also let vocal Alaskans know they’re being heard.
“Does she represent the state of Alaska or a foreign mining company?” Archibald asked.
By Ben Hohenstatt
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