Murkowski takes stand against Pebble at AFN

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voiced strong opposition to the proposed Pebble mine in her address to the Alaska Federation of Natives, which met virtually this year because of the global novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Wrong mine in the wrong place,” she said during a video address on Thursday, Oct. 15, echoing the words of the late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

“I have been clear throughout that I oppose the project,” Murkowski said, adding that she is continuing to closely monitor the situation.

“I recognize the need for new economic development in Southwest Alaska,” she said. “I think we all do, but I simply think this is the wrong mine in the wrong place. But while we may have stopped Pebble today, I think now is the time to start thinking about the future. We need longer-term protections for the region that can also provide enduring value for Alaskans.”

The senator’s comments came in the wake of the release of “the Pebble tapes” by an environmental nonprofit in Washington, D.C., in which former Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier said told people he thought were potential investors that Murkowski supported the mine, a claim that the senator has vehemently denied. Collier submitted his resignation shortly after the tapes went public.

Murkowski’s statements to the AFN drew praise from the environmental entities SalmonState and Trout Unlimited.

“A long-term solution for Bristol Bay requires an official stop to the Pebble project and the mineral leases in the area taken permanently off the table,” said Neili Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited. “As the senator observed, there are unresolvable issues that prevent this mine from being developed safely, in this place.”

Tim Bristol, executive director of SalmonState, also thanked Murkowski, but said that scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency need to be allowed to issue a veto under section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act, and not issue the related federal permit for the mine.

Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, urged Gov. Mike Dunleavy in a recent letter not to support the efforts to grant a Clean Water Act permit for the mine. They reminded Dunleavy that the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, renowned for its world class sockeye salmon fishery, is critical to the subsistence, sport and commercial harvesters, and that the USACE’s final impact statement notes that the mine impact initially would include the loss of over 2,800 acres of wetlands and nearly 130 miles of salmon streams.

They also noted that video tapes released recently by a nonprofit environmental group in Washington, D.C., revealed plans of the Pebble Limited Partnership to expand operations once the mine is in place so that it could operate for up to 200 years.

The governor responded in part by saying that “no serious person would disagree that accessing the mineral deposits within the Bristol Bay Mining District, if done in a way that protects the watershed, would transform the lives of Alaskans living in the region.”

“My role is to ensure that each project is subject to a fair and rigorous review process, and that every opportunity to create thousands of jobs is fully explored,” Dunleavy said.

Advocates of the mine meanwhile are awaiting a final record of decision from the U.S Army Corps of Engineers.