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Taryn Kiekow Heimer’s Blog

Show Me The Money, Pebble Mine!

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Posted June 5, 2013 in Reviving the World's Oceans, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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In recent weeks, we’ve seen several different economic reports regarding Bristol Bay’s riches:

First, the independent Environmental Protection Agency released its revised draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.  Although the point of the assessment was to measure the impacts of large-scale mining on the Bristol Bay watershed, EPA also found that the region’s salmon industry accounts for $480 million annually and supports 14,000 jobs. 

Second, the independent University of Alaska Institute of Economic and Social Research (ISER) released a report that quantified the extraordinary economic value of the Bristol Bay commercial sockeye fisheries. The report concluded that commercial fishing activities in the region account for $1.5 billion annually and support 12,000 jobs related to commercial fishing (this number does not include the jobs created by the vibrant sports fishing in the region). 

Most recently, the self-interested Pebble Partnership – the consortium of foreign mining companies that seeks to develop Pebble Mine and its 10 billion tons of waste – released a report of its own, touting the promised treasures of Pebble Mine.  According to the mining companies, Pebble Mine would support approximately 15,000 direct and indirect jobs each year for the next 25 to 30 years and would pay Alaska an estimated $136 to $180 million in annual taxes and royalties.   

What’s astonishing about Pebble’s report is that it purports to estimate the number of jobs and revenue generated from Pebble Mine when the mining companies have repeatedly said that they do not yet have  a specific mining plan.  Pebble CEO John Shively called the mine plan used in EPA’s Watershed Assessment – which was based on the company’s own filings with the State of Alaska and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission – a “fantasy.”  

So then what is the basis for Pebble’s job and tax estimates?  If the mine plan in EPA’s assessment—and the companies’ own documents filed with the State of Alaska and SEC—are “fantasy,” then the jobs and taxes that Pebble hypes can only be “fantasy.” Alternatively, if Pebble based its economic report on a sound mine plan, then it must stop deceiving the public and EPA and release that mine plan.

One thing that is neither fantasy nor debatable is the economic importance of Bristol Bay’s legendary salmon runs.  Pebble Mine would risk the 14,000 jobs and $1.5 billion supported by Bristol Bay’s most famous resource: wild salmon.  Bristol Bay is home to more than half of the world's sockeye salmon population. It is the most valuable wild salmon fishery in the world.  Why risk a sustainable, renewable resource for a short-term mine?  It just doesn’t make any sense. 

It certainly doesn’t make sense to commercial fishermen from Bristol Bay or to the restaurateurs who buy their product, as documented in this compelling video from Commercial Fisherman for Bristol Bay that puts a face to the region's powerhouse salmon economy.

              

Thomas Douglas, James Beard Award winning chef, restaurateur, author, and radio talk show host who owns 13 restaurants and employs 800 people, says:

  • “[Salmon is] about 20% of all our sales, so last year we were in the $40 million area of sales, so I would bet that salmon was close to $10 million of that. What’s important to us is that it’s sustainably caught, sustainably run—that is just part and parcel of what us as restaurateurs (and especially, I think, high-end restaurateurs) [do]. Our customers are looking for our guidance [on] what is right to eat, what is a good thing to have on our plate, what, if I have it tonight, I can still have it tomorrow and for the rest of my life. This is a thousands-of-year-old fishery, it has thousands of years of life left in it. To me, it’s unequivocally one of the biggest environmental catastrophes waiting to happen of my lifetime.”  Thomas Douglas, James Beard Award winning chef, restaurateur, author, and radio talk show host who owns 13 restaurants and employs 800 people.

Pat Pitch has been building aluminum gillnet fishing boats in Bristol Bay since 1978. He says:

  • “I’ve spent the last 30 years building a business around Bristol Bay and the Pebble Mine could wipe that out in one fell swoop.”

Nor does it make sense to residents of Bristol Bay, as seen in these ads that ran last month in Washington, D.C.

      Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for RickPolitico (Wednesday, May 22 2013).jpg   Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for KimberlyPolitico (Thursday, May 23 2013).jpg

  • "As the former president of the Alaska State Senate, I served as a Republican leader in Alaska for 26 years. I believe in mining. I believe that mines are an important part of Alaska’s economy….but I don’t support Pebble Mine.” Rick Halford, former president of Alaska’s State Senate (above left).
  • "I am the Executive Director of Nunamta Aulukestai…a coalition of 10 tribal governments and 10 native village corporations. The legendary salmon runs of Bristol Bay have supported our people for thousands of years. Salmon are our source of life. Salmon represent our past and our future.” Kimberly Williams, Executive Director of Nunamta Aulukestai (above right).

If it doesn’t make sense to you, please click here to stop the Pebble Mine.

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Comments

FishermanJun 6 2013 09:15 PM

FYI: the sole reason the mining plan has yet to be submitted is because of the arcane permitting process developed by the DNR. Once the permit application is actually submitted there is little if anything anyone can do to stop it. Technically, if Pebble can show that they are meeting or exceeding flaws the DNR sees in the application, then there is no basis to deny the application, and so the mine continues. A consortium the size of Pebble does not happen by accident. They know how to work the permitting process and we are all watching this play out. I'm cautiously optimistic that the mine will be defeated, but would definitely not be surprised if it goes through.

DylanJun 7 2013 07:33 AM

"promised treasures" - rather copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral resources every Alaskan and North American depends on for everyday life.

Fisherman is wrong about large mine permitting. I think everyone knows that this is the highest profile mining development in Alaska's history, and as already seen from EPA's BBWA and plethora of lawsuits and NGO campaigns, there will be a longer, more critical, and more publicly involved review process during NEPA. That's positive in my opinion.

The author fails to highlight other important statistics from the economic report. The mine would pay more taxes than the entire Alaskan fishing industry combined, and overall operational spending of around $2.5 billion. Also, most of these jobs will be local Alaskan jobs (unlike the fishing industry, the majority is employed via Washington and Oregon).

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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