Thursday, October 18, 2007

Alaska Miners Association Claims The Alaska Clean Water Initiative Would Kill Alaska's Mining Industry Just To Stop The Pebble Mine

The Alaska Miners Association believes the proposed Alaska Clean Waters Initiative, sponsored by the Renewable Resources Coalition, could possibly kill the mining industry altogether in Alaska. Full story aired on KTUU Channel 2 in Anchorage, with a related story published in the Anchorage Daily News.

"The issue is not clean water; it is stopping mining," said Steve Borell, the executive director of the Alaska Miners Association.

The initiative prohibits toxic pollutants from being released into any watershed used by humans for drinking or used by salmon. Waste rock and tailings couldn't be dumped within a thousand feet of streams.

Borell says that's an impossible standard. "In that every stream in the state is classified for drinking water by definition, you couldn't be within 1,000 feet of any stream. Effectively this would eliminate large scale metal mining in the state," he said. My own examination of the initiative shows no exceptions provided for existing operations, which could jeopardize the existence of the Red Dog Mine, the largest zinc mine in the world.

However, Art Hackney, a consultant working for the Renewable Resources Coalition fighting the Pebble Mine, supports the proposed initiative. "We really wish the mining community as a whole would see that this is one bad apple in an otherwise very good bushel," he said.

The Renewable Resources Coalition sponsored the initiative because they don't trust the state permitting process and are uncertain the legislature will do anything to halt Pebble. They see the initiative process as their best opportunity for a roadblock.

"I don't like the initiative process," Hackney said. "I think it muddles up ... a representative form of government where you expect to have people who have the guts to go down and make decisions and stand up and fight for them." But Hackney says in the absence of any gutsy politicians, initiatives make sense.

Backers have until January 15th, 2007 to collect the required signatures to put the future of Pebble on the August 2008 primary ballot. Earlier, an appeals court judge ordered the state to have the signature booklets to initiative supporters by Monday October 22nd; however, the Division of Elections says it can't make that deadline. Backers are pushing for the accelerated deadline because the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention begins in Fairbanks on October 22nd and they'd like to distribute the booklets to the AFN delegates.

Just what's at stake here?

In a story published Saturday October 13th in the Anchorage Daily News, it was revealed that the Pebble East deposit in Southwest Alaska is so large that despite two years of exploratory drilling, its outer edges have yet to be found, according to Sean Magee, a spokesman for Northern Dynasty Mines Inc.

Exploratory drilling this year at Pebble East shows mineralization going north to south for more than 9,000 feet, 600 feet beyond the previous boundary. The company estimates the Pebble East deposit contains 42.6 billion pounds of copper, 39.6 million ounces of gold, and 2.7 billion pounds of molybdenum, a mineral used to strengthen metal.

Northern Dynasty is partnered with London-based mining giant Anglo American in a 50-50 joint venture to develop the mine near Bristol Bay. Anglo American has pledged to provide $1.4 billion in financing. Anglo began financing the venture on August 1st, 2007. By the end of the year, Northern Dynasty expects to have invested about $225 million in the project, with about $85 million of that in environmental and socio-economic studies.

Sean Magee said a feasibility study should be completed by the end of 2008. Drilling would begin in 2009 with the finalization of permits, he said. It will cost an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion to build the mine. Annual operating costs would run hundreds of millions of dollars. "In our view, it would benefit three to five generations of Alaskans directly," Magee said. "This one has the potential to go for as many as 100 years."

However, it should be noted that in 2007, the Bristol Bay salmon fishery was valued at $108 million with 31.6 million salmon harvested, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That is a hell of lot of money to sacrifice if the Pebble Mine project ends up polluting the Bristol Bay headwaters. And that is one of the main reasons why local residents in the area fear the project. But while those fears are not unfounded, we should wait until Northern Dynasty presents its final plan before foreclosing the option altogether.

Analysis: The Renewable Resources Coalition freely confesses its McCarthyite prohibitionist agenda. They are so determined to quash the Pebble Mine that they are willing to risk shutting down mining in all of Alaska, including the world's largest zinc mine.

The environmental movement is dominated by these McCarthyites. They won't accept conservation, or responsible development. Instead, they demand prohibition, or no development. And the environmental movement is implicitly biased against the working class; their measures, when adopted, do not put attorneys or consultants out of work. They put lumberjacks, paper mill workers, and fishermen out of work.

The Alaska Clean Water Initiative sends the wrong message to the business community. It says that Alaska is NOT open for business.


  1. Pebble will destroy the salmon in Bristol Bay...time to choose....10,000 more fishing seasons or one big lethal mine

  2. To all Alaskans,

    In their enthusiasm to stop the Pebble mine members of the Renewable Resource Coalition have sponsered an initiative for “An act to protect Alaska’s clean water”

    The so called "clean water initiative" is not about fish or clean water as the proponents would have one believe. With the initiative’s wide sweeping ramifications it should be titled “Stop mining initiative”.

    This initiative would arbitrarily override science-based processes and standards.
    Supporters of these initiatives claim that existing mines would be "grand fathered in" and would be protected. They ignore the reality that existing mines constantly have to apply for new permits and renew old permits to allow their operation to continue, so this initiative essentially will shut down mining in Alaska.

    This would be the most devastating thing to happen to the mineral industry in Alaska in it's entire history.

    Every potential mining proposal should have the right to be heard based on it’s own merits and not defeated by overreaching blanket prohibitions before the proposal can even be heard.

    The initiative, if passed into law, will be the end of new money coming into Alaska for the purpose of mineral exploration and development.

    The initiative would shut down exploration and development work already in progress on several prospective mines throughout the state eliminating the jobs and revenue stream generated by such work.

    In addition, mining claims located on state land that are currently paying lease payments to the state will be dropped in large number costing the state millions of dollars in lease payment revenue.

    Responsible development of mineral resources is the responsibility of developed nations like ourselves. The current permitting process is very stringent and has many time and money consuming requirements already in place that protect “Alaska’s clean water”.

    If we continue to lock up our resources and let countries like China supply minerals, from their largely unregulated lands, we will suffer environmental disasters on a world wide scene of mass proportions.

    Do any of the proponents of this terrible idea have any qualms about the rest of the world's unregulated mining and the potential damage caused?

    Not developing minerals under our current rigid environmental permitting process in Alaska and the rest of the U.S.A. is really short sited and devastating when considering the alternatives of supplying minerals that the entire planet uses and demands.

    Whether one is for or against the Pebble mine being developed the method of using this initiative to stop the project is inappropriate and disastrous to Alaska and the mining industry.
    The Pebble prospect should be heard based on it’s own merit as an individual project.

    Thank you for your time,

    Victor Palmer
    Haines, Alaska