Having an honest discussion about Pebble

As Sen. Mark Begich and Rep. Andy Josephson have recently opined about Pebble, I offer some of my own thoughts in response to the rhetoric of politicians more interested in inciting fear and “us vs. them” thinking than facts.

I flew my own plane to the Pebble deposit two summers ago and believe it is imperative that any elected officials who want to weigh in on this matter should at a minimum visit the property for themselves and visit with all groups expressing views on the matter.

Let’s have an honest discussion about modern mining based on current technology, under current rules and regulations, not horror stories based on past projects in other places, with decades-old technologies and practices, and political exercises like the recent EPA “assessment.” Yet another example of federal over-reach, the EPA piece is a political document. A report in search of a conclusion.

And let’s have a discussion that considers the role of pride in preserving the Native cultures in rural Alaska, and the role that economic opportunity and having a job play in strengthening that pride.

Let’s have a discussion about the economic decline in parts of rural Alaska, how that leads to population decline as the most capable people move to urban Alaska, and the impact of that on rural culture. Let’s talk about a viable plan for improving the economy in rural Alaska. A plan based on creating wealth and moving people off of public assistance. A plan for reversing the school closures that come with outmigration.

The Bristol Bay fishery is certainly an asset for the people of Alaska, any development of Pebble must be compatible with the fishery. That said, much of the value of that fishery is going outside of Alaska, with well over half of the drift permits fished by non-Alaskans and with well over 70 percent of the processing jobs going to non-residents. That must be why the EPA chose to have the first public hearing on the draft “assessment” in downtown Seattle.

A preliminary economic study of development at Pebble estimated that it could create thousands of good paying year-round jobs, generate over one billion dollars of annual economic activity and contribute several billion dollars to the state’s general fund. At a time when oil throughput is in decline, we — as elected leaders — must thoroughly evaluate all potential economic opportunities.

Sen. Begich’s recent change of heart on Pebble is a play for support of national environmental organizations in his re-election campaign. The Natural Resources Defense Council has made Pebble a central fundraising issue featuring aging movie actor Robert Redford and is a leading group in the anti-Pebble fight.

The NRDC has fought many Alaska resource development projects and to my knowledge has not advocated for responsible mineral development anywhere in the U.S. Trout Unlimited, World Wildlife Fund, and Earthworks have also led national campaigns to stop the project including asking the EPA to pre-emptively stop Pebble — something the agency has not done since it was established.

There is also the Moore Foundation, a San Francisco based foundation ironically established by the founders of Intel, that has sent millions to Alaska to fight Pebble. It is a shame for politicians to pander to these big outside groups. 

The issues and passions generated by discussing Pebble are many and complex. This is why we have an established, science based process to evaluate projects and determine if they meet our high standards for development.

The alternative is a politically driven process that would promote decisions based upon the whims of partisan politics, with a guaranteed outcome that investment money will go somewhere else and with it, so will the jobs and economic opportunity for Alaskans for generations to come. Alaskans are smart enough to do projects like this right. Let’s work together and find a way to make that happen.

Eric Feige is a Republican from Chickaloon representing District 6.

11/15/2016 - 4:09pm