Corporate Mining Rights Deny Self-Rule to Alaskans

January 31, 2017
Kevin Morford

In the pristine lands and waterways around Bristol Bay, Alaska, where the bears forage, the moose browse and the lynxes hunt the snowshoe hare, a rich habitat supports the largest remaining wild sockeye salmon run in the world and one of the world’s largest king salmon runs. While the salmon spend most of their lives in the open ocean, they are hatched in the fresh water streams and return to them to spawn the next generation. They are a vital component in the vast ecosystem essential to flora, fauna and human cultures living within the region.1 In this world-class ecological treasure, there is also a world-class deposit of copper, gold and molybdenum ore.

This is where the Pebble Limited Partnership wants to build the largest mine in North America. Pebble wants to use 20 square miles of state-owned land, excavate over 10 billion tons of ore, and build an earthen dam about seven hundred feet tall to hold the toxic tailings of its mining operations in a ten square mile “containment pond.”  The project would completely destroy a large portion of the spawning grounds for the salmon and would threaten even more damage if the dam were to collapse or leak. This part of Alaska is also a highly active earthquake zone. The second largest earthquake ever recorded by humans (magnitude 9.1) occurred near this project site in 1964.2

This project has generated substantial opposition, both locally and nationally. The Lake and Peninsula Borough, the jurisdiction in which the mine is located, passed a home rule initiative to protect water quality from large scale mining operations. The Pebble Partnership sued to overturn the will of the voters, using both statutory and constitutional arguments including equal protection rights of the 14th Amendment.  Pebble Partnership won that lawsuit, and the local initiative was struck down.3

Earlier, the Pebble Partnership filed suit to stop a statewide initiative to ban large scale mining projects in this sensitive salmon habitat but that lawsuit did not succeed. After the Pebble Partnership and its allies outspent the initiative’s supporters by 10-to-one, the initiative was defeated at the polls.4 Recently the Pebble Partnership made repeated attempts to subpoena the names of its project’s opponents. To date those efforts have been rejected by the courts.5

The Pebble mining project was rejected by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014. With Donald Trump’s nomination of climate change denier Scott Pruitt to head the agency, representatives of the Pebble Partnership have stated that they expect their project will now receive quick support from the EPA.6

 

Sources:

  1. Why Protect Salmon, Guido Rahr. https://www.wildsalmoncneter.org/work/why.protect-salmon/
  2. The Great M9.2 Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami of March 27, 1964. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/alaska1964/
  3. Jacko v. State, Pebble Ltd. Partnership, 353P.3rd 337 (Alaska 2015). https://casetext.com/case/jacko-v-state-pebble-ltd-1
  4. Winners and Losers in Alaska’s Primary Election, Alaska Dispatch News, August 29, 2012. https://www.adn.com/politics/article/winners-and-losers-alaskas-primary-election/2112/08/29/
  5. Crushing Alaska’s Pebble Mine, Nicole Greenfield, Natural Resource Defense Council, June 2, 2016. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/crushing-alaskas-pebble-mine
  6. Pebble Backers Hope Trump Administration Breathes New Life into Mine Project, Erica Martinson, Alaska News Dispatch, December 24, 2016. https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/2016/12/24/pebble-backers-hope-trump-administration-breathes-new-life-into-mine-project/
     

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