An opinion poll taken on August 18th by KTUU Channel 2 in Anchorage shows overwhelming opposition to Alaska Ballot Measure 4, which would virtually shut down the mining industry in Alaska. Here's the poll question and the results:
Do you support or oppose Ballot Measure 4, the Clean Water initiative?
- Support: 26 percent
- Oppose: 71 percent
- Don't Know: 3 percent
While KTUU's polls are "unscientific", they can be considered reasonably authoritative and representative of statewide opinion since KTUU news is broadcast statewide, and one can only vote once.
One of the major factors contributing to the unpopularity of Ballot Measure 4, a factor not anticipated by its proponents, is the skyrocketing costs of fuel, which have impacted Bush Alaska most severely. Gas and heating fuel are approaching $8.00 per gallon in many Bush communities. And Bush residents realize that a vote for Ballot Measure 4 would restrict if not outright prevent further economic development in the Bush, thus condemning Bush residents to greater economic servitude and outright economic disenfranchisement. This has been the great Achilles heel of the enivronmental movement - their measures disproportionately victimize lower income people, and the environmentalists have been unwilling to craft a strategy to mitigate this problem.
Ballot Measure 4 was also discussed in a separate KTUU story. It might be tough for voters to figure out just what the language of the initiative really means, because the different sides disagree on its impacts. While supporter Art Hackney claims it's as "clear as a whistle and is very specific", opponent Willis Lyford considers it poorly constructed, claiming the language and the drafting were flawed.
On paper, the measure says it would ban large scale mineral mines from storing or releasing toxic pollutants into the water where it could adversely affect salmon or humans. Alaskans for Clean Water says the standard would not apply to existing mines. But Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown say the language isn't legally clear enough, saying permits for existing mines might not get renewed, or permits for expanding current mines would get turned down. This creates the threat of a mining shutdown in Alaska.
And, of course, the main issue in the battle over Ballot Measure 4 is the proposed development of Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, the home to the biggest salmon runs in the world. Supporters of the initiative are concerned that an accident there would ruin the salmon run, so this measure would prevent Pebble Mine from being developed.
But opponents say that across the board restrictions aren't the answer. While they acknowledge that some concerns about the Pebble Mine are valid, they don't think the solution is to whack the entire mining industry.
Both sides combined have spent more than $5 million on advertising since March trying to convince voters to take a side. That $5 million figure -- the total money both sides are spending on advertising -- is from information they submitted at the end of July. The actual numbers likely exceed $5 million by now. And both sides accuse each other of using money from Lower 48 and foreign interests to fund their advertising campaigns.
Both sides are also duking it out on the pages of the Anchorage Daily News. In an August 18th column entitled "Pebble is wrong mine at wrong place", Bruce Switzer, a senior technical adviser for Alaskans for Clean Water, states the following:
Every sulphide mine in conditions remotely resembling Pebble has polluted the surrounding waters. No acid-generating mine has ever been built in an environment as economically important and ecologically significant as Pebble, let alone where the ground is saturated; the water table is at the surface, and where experts predict a quake of magnitude 7.7 or greater.
If this is not enough, consider that the companies involved in developing Pebble have no experience in northern mining. Anglo American has never planned or built a mine in North America, let alone under the extremely difficult conditions at Pebble. Their partner, Northern Dynasty, has never planned or built anything. In its 2004 annual report, Northern Dynasty stated that Pebble is probably uninsurable because of accidents, spills, earthquake and "catastrophe." Yet these companies want to build the largest-open pit sulfide mine in North America with the largest tailings dam ever built to hold back the tailings.
However, in another August 18th column entitled "Ballot Measure 4 poses threat to Alaska", co-authors Cynthia Toohey and Jim Whitaker relate the following:
What proponents of Measure 4 are doing is creating a false perception of Measure 4 to justify their agenda without consideration for the rest of Alaska. The reason for the deception is the initiative, in truth, threatens the entire mining industry and therefore cannot be argued on its merits. In fact, Measure 4 is so poorly written that at the end of oral arguments about the measure before the Alaska Supreme Court on June 16, Justice Robert Eastaugh asked: "If it's taken us this long, all of us in this room, to figure this out, how long will it take the voters in the voting booth?"
What's also troubling about Measure 4 is the secret, unreported money funding the yes vote campaign. A Washington, D.C.-based lobbying and special interest money group called Americans for Job Security has pumped more than $1.2 million into the yes campaign. This shadow group, which has been found guilty of violating Alaska election laws in the past, refuses to disclose the source of its "soft" money.
In addition, Ballot Measure 4 would create two problems. First, Alaska's respected and thorough, fact-based regulatory review process would be replaced with an arbitrary, untested process. Alaska already has some of the strongest environmental regulations in the world, written to protect salmon and human health. The existing state and federal review process ensures that no permitting decision can be made until environmental studies are completed and reviewed by independent, qualified professionals. And second, uncertainty over Measure 4's unknown regulations risks new investment in Alaska's mining industry and thousands of existing and future jobs. Passage of Measure 4 would lead to expensive lawsuits and unnecessary red tape while the regulatory process grinds to a halt.
Andrew Halcro also weighs in. On his blog, he reminds us that one of the primary bankrollers for Ballot Measure 4 is a wealthy lodge owner in the area named Bob Gillam. Gillam owns a 10,000-square-foot log house on a peninsula jutting into Lake Clark, about 30 miles from the mine site, and his Alaska investment firm holds more than $1 billion in mining stocks for clients. Thus he has multiple vested interests in aborting the Pebble Mine altogether. Senator Ted Stevens is also on public record as opposing Pebble Mine, although he's not taken a public position on Ballot Measure 4.
A vote against Ballot Measure 4 is NOT a vote for Pebble Mine. The Pebble Mine has yet to be approved; Northern Dynasty has not completed their final plans. Pebble Mine could still be rejected in the future if their plans don't pass muster. A vote against Ballot Measure 4 is simply a vote to allow Alaska's mining industry to remain intact.
Below is the official language of the initiative, along with the official statements in support and opposition:
- Full four-page Text of 07WTR3 Initiative
- Statement in Support of 07WTR3 Initiative
- Statement in Opposition to 07WTR3 Initiative
VOTE NO ON BALLOT MEASURE 4!!!