The chief executive of Anglo American, one of the companies pursuing development of the Pebble prospect – a world-class copper deposit in Southwest Alaska – assured 400 people attending an RDC breakfast meeting in Anchorage last month that mining will not harm the Bristol Bay fishery.
“I want to make one thing absolutely clear: fishing and mining can coexist,” said Cynthia Carroll. “Much of what I hear from the opposition to Pebble claims that this is not possible. They are purely and simply wrong.”
Carroll emphasized that with the proper protections, copper mining can coexist with a healthy salmon fishery. “I stand by the commitment that I made to you in 2007 that without proper environmental protections, Pebble should not be built,” Carroll said.
Carroll cited many examples in Alaska of mining coexisting with healthy fisheries, including the Red Dog, Fort Knox, and Greens Creek mines. She said perhaps the most striking example on the West Coast of North America is the Fraser River.
The British Columbia river system has several copper mines and a whole host of other industries that have been in operation for decades, including logging, gravel mining, agriculture, and extensive urban development. Yet the Fraser River supports a healthy salmon run. In 2010, the Fraser River system saw a sockeye salmon return of 34 million – the highest since 1913.
Carroll challenged those interests who have arrived at the conclusion that Pebble cannot coexist with the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. She questioned how opponents could come to such an assessment when there is still no mine plan, no formal proposal and no proper understanding of the risks and benefits.
“Until stakeholders have all the information at their disposal to make their decisions, I simply cannot accept that it is right to make a judgment on the project,” Carroll said. “I reject calls from Pebble opponents for premature decisions to be taken based on fear-mongering, not facts, and I stand by my word.”
Pebble is still studying multiple options as it works toward completion of a pre-feasibility study in 2012. When the project does have a preferred option, Carroll said it will engage in further consultations in advance of taking any proposal to a multi-year permitting process. That process will require Pebble to secure over 60 major permits from state and federal agencies.
Carroll said geologists have conducted extensive work to further delineate what has emerged as a world class copper deposit at Pebble. She noted environmental consultants have been working on what will probably be the most comprehensive scientific environmental baseline assessment of any part of Alaska, investing over $100 million in the process. She said Pebble engineers have been examining in great detail a range of options for different mining and associated infrastructure scenarios.
Meanwhile, Pebble’s chief executive officer John Shively and his team have been criss-crossing Southwest Alaska, visiting villages, engaging with Native Alaskan leaders and organizations, and meeting with interest groups. Carroll said a deep understanding of the interests and concerns around the project is critically important for the team’s project planning.
Carroll responded to a “no dirty gold” campaign promoted by Lower 48-based environmental groups and supported by several high profile jewelry companies alleging that any gold that may in the future be produced from Pebble would be “dirty.” Carroll strongly rejected this position, but acknowledged dirty gold does exist where it is produced in areas that do not ensure respect for human rights and where gold is produced without proper environmental protections.
“Ethical gold is produced in well-managed jurisdictions, with respect for the workforce and communities, with strict environmental controls and where the extractive companies involved are committed to the highest standards in the industry,” Carroll declared. “I can assure that the minerals produced by Pebble will be among the cleanest, most ethically produced in the industry.”
Carroll emphasized that for advanced economies, the domestic mining industry is central to creating economic growth and to providing the critical minerals for a sustainable, green economy. She said mining is the lifeblood of the 21st century economy and recalled how much citizens depend on the industry.
Copper is a vital element in buildings and homes and its essential properties make it irreplaceable for energy efficiency. Carroll noted most modern buildings could not exist without copper, nor would cars and trucks. She pointed out that there is 40 pounds of copper in the average car, and nearly twice as much in a modern hybrid. She said copper is virtually everywhere, including the electronics of mobile phones.
“Copper is helping drive the green revolution – demand for copper from wind turbines is growing all the time,” Carroll said. “It is so easy to take for granted the work that companies such as ours do. But the bottom line is that mining is a vital part of all of our lives. Copper is easy to take for granted, and almost impossible to do without.”
Carroll pledged Pebble’s commitment to help build sustainable communities in Southwest Alaska, one of the weakest regions in Alaska economically. Communities are under severe and increasing threat of decline and even in some cases, disappearance. School populations have declined dramatically and unemployment is rampant. With a lack of surface infrastructure, energy, groceries, and other goods are much higher than in urban Alaska.
“I truly believe that a responsibly-managed project such as Pebble could provide a lifeline for these communities; it could provide incentive for families to return, for schools to reopen, for communities to find a new life,” Carroll said. “Pebble offers the prospect of hope and renewal.”
However, Carroll added, “Some will not, or simply do not want to, see these realities – that mining and fishing have been proven to be able to coexist, and that Pebble can be a lifeline for communities in genuine distress.”
With regard to the recently announced study of the Bristol Bay watershed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Carroll said that while the agency has an important role to play in the permitting process, its intervention at this stage introduces great uncertainty for anyone engaged in economic activity in the region. Having been lobbied intensively by Pebble opponents, EPA said it would study the impact of large-scale projects in the region on the Bristol Bay watershed.
“Uncertainty deters investment at a time when Alaska needs the revenue and jobs that major projects such as Pebble bring to the table,” Carroll said. “ I agree with Senator Murkowski, who has said, ‘Any effort by the agency to block responsible development before a project has even been proposed would be unprecedented and would have a chilling effect on the state’s economy.’ I hope and trust that the EPA will commit to refraining from exercising any premature veto over development in Bristol Bay and instead play its well-established role during the consideration of permit applications.”
Carroll emphasized Alaska has a world class ore body on state land designated for mining, whose development would bring billions of dollars of investment, and help generate hundreds, perhaps thousands of much-needed jobs for many decades. She also noted that the state and federal permitting process will apply among the most rigorous environmental standards in the world. She said such standards can ensure coexistence of mining and a healthy salmon fishery.
Carroll also pointed out the federal government has put more than a third of Alaska into protected areas. On the other hand, she noted the State has received lands Alaskans assume will be used to support their economy. Pebble is located on just such lands.
Carroll urged Alaskans to grasp the opportunity, reinforce Alaska as a jurisdiction that is open for responsible business, and allow due process to continue. She also urged Alaskans to leave open the opportunity to reinvigorate an entire region, open up a major new revenue stream for the Alaskan treasury, and make decisions only once the information has been made fully available.
Carroll charged Pebble opponents with disseminating disingenuous propaganda seeking to force Alaskans into a false choice, between mining and fish.“Take your time to gather reliable information and decide on the facts,” she said.
“We have been invited in to see whether we can develop those lands,” Carroll said. “We should be given the opportunity to prove we can do it right.”
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