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Friday, January 28, 2022

Pebble Mine and the Foreign Fox in Alaska’s Legal Hen House

By Shannyn Moore

We take the 49th star on our nation’s flag for granted. That was a hard fight, and statehood wasn’t won on the first pass or even the second. The tipping point and fuel came in large part from the “We-don’t-like-being-bossed-around-by-outsiders” attitude of Alaskans.

It’s a bit ironic when we look at ourselves 50-plus years later. This week at the Alaska Energy Council luncheon, oil lobbyists and Republican lawmakers sat side by side at the head table. I guess I should be grateful they’re fraternizing in public instead of in a room at the Baranof.

I long for the voice of a leader who is Alaska First, parties be damned, election coffers ignored. I’d like to see “Not For Sale” signs on every door of the Legislature; as it is, they may as well say, “Fire Sale.”

Current federal election law forbids any foreign person or company from contributing to the campaign of any candidate for elected office. State law is tougher and makes citizenship a prerequisite for giving contributions.

Even a lawfully admitted permanent resident who pays property taxes isn’t allowed to contribute to a candidate (Code 14:13:068 C1). I don’t have a problem with that.

My problem is that the very same individual or company can empty its bank accounts to support or oppose a ballot initiative.

Ballot initiatives create law. Parental notifications, cruise ship taxes (yes, Gov. Parnell, that was a law), aerial wolf hunting bans, clean elections, clean water and many more have been thumbed up or down at the ballot box. But foreigners can contribute without limit. What is to stop China from influencing coal development, Japan or Korea fisheries law, or Britain or Canada mining laws? Oh, wait, they already are.If it is forbidden to financially support the election of lawmakers, why is it legal to pay for (or against) initiatives?

Bob Gillam, a born and raised, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps Alaskan is being attacked by the foreign-owned Pebble Partnership and its compliant media shills. Gillam is a successful businessman. His company, McKinley Capital, injects $50 million dollars annually into Alaska’s economy. He’s politically conservative; very much pro-development and pro-mining — just not that mine in that place.

And why are they attacking him? Because Gillam is bankrolling the fight to stop the Pebble project. In particular, Gillam is the sole contributor to Alaskans for Bristol Bay-Vote Yes on The Save Our Salmon initiative, which comes to a vote in the Lake and Peninsula Borough municipal election this Tuesday.

A Sunday columnist on these very pages works for the Pebble Partnership’s local advertising agency.

That most of the Save Our Salmon opposition is coming from a foreign corporation gives the pro-Pebble Partnership compliant choir no heartburn at all. That the Pebble Partnership’s foreign-owned partner, Anglo American, has a shoddy environmental record around the world appears to be no problem as well. Anglo, the London-based mining giant, pretends to be an environmentally and socially responsible company. However, its track record around the world betrays it web site banner, “Recognising The Value of Sustainable Development.”

A 2001 study of 34 mines around the world found that Anglo-owned mines had the highest concentration of arsenic in their surface water. Acid runoff from an Anglo mine in Zimbabwe contaminated groundwater and polluted the neighboring Yellow Jacket River and harmed fish. In Nevada, an Anglo mine was the single largest source of mercury air pollution in the U.S. As a result, fish consumption limits were imposed for downwind fisheries.

An Anglo mine in Ghana spilled wastewater and toxic tailings repeatedly into surrounding towns. Scientists found the streams in the area were “significantly polluted” by metals. More than 220 mine workers have died at Anglo American mines over the last five years. Unsafe working conditions have prompted repeated protests from mine workers.

The list goes on and on and on.

What of Northern Dynasty’s environmental track record? They don’t have a record. This is their first project.

The only thing Pebble can promise is jobs, jobs that if Anglo’s worldwide track record is any indication, will displace renewable fisheries-related jobs.

What about revenue to public treasury? Pebble will pay the state next to nothing for those vast reserves of non-renewable wealth.

They say we should let the permitting process begin. Frank Murkowski perverted and corrupted that process when he was governor. The permitting process should be called an approval process, as it is basically a back and forth between the mine and the state.

Sort of like if you did your homework wrong, your teacher corrected it, handed it back to you and told you to make the changes and earn an A.

The attacks on Bob Gillam have a purpose, and that is to steer the conversation away from the real issue: the threat to the largest and last wild salmon run on the planet.

That’s why we should move to further limit the influence of Outside money on our initiative process, be it from foreign cruise corporations with their U.S. operations based in Miami or from transnational mining giants based in Canada or Great Britain.




18 Responses to “Pebble Mine and the Foreign Fox in Alaska’s Legal Hen House”
  1. Zyxomma says:

    This may seem unrelated, because it’s not about Pebble per se, but it does provide some insight into current feelings about ANWR:

    • mikefromiowa says:

      The petro-industry and their bought and paid for pols will pooh-pooh the numbers of dissenting voices with a claim like once these people understand how much better off economically they will be,they will support the drilling.What they are saying in effect is we will be here until we get what we want and then we will make those dissenters sorry they stood in the way of progress-ours.Money talks and speaks loudly while heritage and cultures are not important when their is profit to be made for the greedy.When does no mean no? Apparently never when profits are in the offing.

  2. mikefromiowa says:

    Personally,I still believe that it will come down to one single vote and that vote has already been purchased through the governor’s office.Just when rational people start thinking the worst is over.rethuglicans drop the other shoe,claim checkmate and tell you you have no other options. Without any actual knowledge,I can pretty much assure you that Parnell is well aware of steps he can take to thwart the will of the people,when they disagree with him. He has probably been in contact with high mucky-mucks in the rethuglican legal officers and with every korporate lawyer worth his salt. I beg Alaskans to prove me wrong.Please.please.please.

  3. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    I have read in several places about how the impoundment lakes Pebble proposes to use for its discharge water are vulnerable to earthquakes. The point is valid. But it is less than compelling because of the all too human inability to accurately envision long spans of time. Earthquakes are rare events. The true issue of these impoundment plans is never mentioned. Maybe it is because it is a little more difficult to understand than an image of a great flood of toxic mud or something. I am not a hydrologist but I could find one who would perhaps take part in this debate, but I will go ahead and assert that the existence of these impoundments will inevitably pollute the downstream watershed.
    This is because by definition, a naturally occurring lake is in communication with the water table.

    WC probably remembers the citation for the supreme court decision a few years back about another copper mine in SE AK that completely missed that point, that lakes communicate with the water table. So do rivers and streams and small creeks and even intermittent streams. The water we see at the surface of the earth is just what peeks through the low spots of a saturated planet.

    This type of mine, what is known as a copper-gold porphyry has some standard characteristics. For one thing, most of the copper will occur in the form of a sulfide such as chalcopyrite which is a copper iron sulfide.To refine the copper it is necessary to remove the sulpher ions. The iron ions are not economically abundant enough to bother with so they too are discarded. We could here diverge into the chemical characteristics of the stuff we are here discussing but it would be debilitating. Instead we should look at the fact that the primary minerals and elements of interest are not at all the whole story. Any legitimate whole rock analysis looks at about 16 elements so there are a dozen or so other elements that will not be recovered at Pebble mine and will also go into the effluent. Manganese, aluminum, magnesium, and so on.

    The simple truth is the impoundment plan for the Pebble mine virtually guarantees that the entire salmon watershed down stream will become polluted. The alternative is technologically feasible but much more expensive than building a couple of huge earthen dams and a few pipelines for sewage.

    There are at least a half dozen other major technical hurdles facing this mine from a standpoint of whether the operators will be given a free hand to externalize costs.

    For reference, I would suggest reading “An Enemy of the People” by Ibsen.

  4. g says:

    I don’t know about the Pebble mine, but that photo is incredible.

  5. WC loves you, Shannyn, but you need to be a little more careful cuddling up to Bob Gillam. He is, after all, the guy who paid the largest fine ever to the Alaska Public Offices Commission. He’s in trouble again with APOC over last year’s Lake and Peninsula Borough elections. Read case #11-09-CD.

    The environmental community strongly opposes Pebble Mine, but they are very careful not to stand too close to Bob Gillam.

    Gillam ends, laudable as they may be, don’t justify his means.

    • Simple Mind says:

      The entire discussion of Bob Gillam is just the Willie Horton ad in reverse. George Bush, Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes used Horton’s escape from a Massachusetts prison furlough program and his subsequent heinous crimes committed while Michael Dukakis was Massachusetts governor to somehow connect Dukakis with the image of scary black criminals. Racist and flawed as the commercial may have been, it was pathetically successful. Gillam is a rich financial guy with a big house who happens to oppose Pebble. Since a rich financial guy is against Pebble, we should be for it? (These are Republicans making that argument?) Gillam might be a great guy, he might be a jerk. I don’t know. Who cares? Give them the argument. Let’s just say that Gillam is a rich guy who only wants to stop the mine so he and his rich buddies can fish. Let’s say he steals Halloween candy and Christmas lights for fun. Okay, so what? What does that have to do with anything? Anglo American could buy a dozen Gillams for what it pays for photocopies in one year, and, unlike Gillam, Anglo will actually be running the mine. This is simply a case of a foreign multinational corporation with a lousy environmental and human rights record and more money than most nations seeking to develop a mine in an incredibly sensitive and valuable place, putting in jeopardy not only the environment but also the centuries-old livelihood of the native people in the area.

    • Concerned Too says:

      WC you have a good point. This man also sued to stop a proposed bridge near his vacation place that would have reduced fuel and food costs to a number of villagers plus allowed for safer travel for them. He is no friend to the area, just his self-interests.

      I also would like to see more effort made to change our state’s resource tax structure when it comes to extracting minerals. Also why are we not going after our legislators about strengthening our permitting process?

      Fighting these bad ventures one by one with just protests will, if not already, lose its ability to keep them from happening.

      I am more than aware it is hard to get those who are SUPPOSED to represent us in the state houses to make change but something tells me the long hard fight there would be much more productive.

    • Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

      WC – this rings some vague bells from other posts I have seen here, perhaps by LKB? Your usual approach to issues as I have seen on your blog merits a degree of credibility that some might not enjoy, however, I think the larger point is still dominant. Even if Gillam transgresses in his methods, he still is an important resource to the effort to change the course of this mine. Were not the US and UK allies of the USSR in WW2?

      Simple Mind – You are correct in the short term sense that the whole point of painting Gillam as a bad guy is to weaken the resistance to Pebble. But in the long term sense I think you need to take the lesson that WC seems to be offering here. The problem we face, and I will not digress into the labrynth of defining what “we” means, is that it is hard to do anything without lots of money. If Gillam will underwrite a strong form of opposition to Pebble, that is presumably good. That he has a track record for fiddling with election laws that might prejudice the entire process of opposing the mine? Not good. So spend his money but watch him like a hawk after a long fast.

  6. Simple Mind says:

    One quibble – This is not really “Northern Dynasty”s first project. Northern Dynasty is simply a shell created by Hunter Dickinson, a Canadian company based in Vancouver. They’ve been around awhile. Since 1985, they have been what they self-describe as “mine finders” although since 2005, they have branched into mine operations as well. They report spinning off 16 public and private companies and mines on six continents. Hunter Dickinson’s job is to find a prospect, get it permitted and then hand it over to Anglo American. Don’t look to Hunter Dickinson, Northern Dynasty or their shills like John Shively to be around long. It will be Anglo American, the British/South African multinational corporation that will be calling the shots.

    • Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

      It is really not a quibble. I have had some contact with various incarnations of Northern Dynasty dating back to the great diamond play in Canada circa 1993-1995 and with Anglo going back to 1979. Of course Anglo is the main player. ND is just the local wedge they need to give some credibility to their pretensions. It also greases the skids some for a range of problems that impede wholesale pillage of non-renewable resources. Think of this joint venture concept as a legalistic veil contrived to lure the victim into reliving the original victimization.

  7. slipstream says:

    We can fish for salmon for a thousand generations, or we can mine at Pebble for three generations. It’s that simple.

    • fishingmamma says:

      You re right. And pointing fingers at Bob Gillam only muddies the water.

  8. EatWildFish says:

    Won’t it be wonderful when a small group of ‘little people’ from Lake and Pen prevail over these mega-corporations and put a stop, no matter how briefly, to the Pebble abomination?!! Those big money bags will be tearing their hair out. It is downright Biblical: David vs. Goliath!

    Pebble CEO Cynthia Carroll: Why won’t you respond to Alaskans when they ask you to honor your promise that if people don’t want the mine, it won’t be built??

    Gov Parnell: Why did you go behind the backs of Alaskans and not tell them that you were siding with Pebble in hopes of stopping Alaskans from voting on the SOS initiative? And why have you never even spoken to Alaskans in the region about their feelings about Pebble Mine??? Like your predecessor, $arah, you are a coward who hides from the people.

  9. Polarbear says:

    There is a way to get something accomplished and also redirect attention away from the pressure to develop now with processes we know are going to result in toxic sites. We have a land grant university system. “Land grant” used to have a special meaning back in the day, in the midwest farm states. “Land grant” universities were created to support economic development – smart economic development. We should task UAF with creating an interdisciplinary project to reinvent mineral processing in Alaska. Find a way to extract minerals from these large deposits in a safe and efficient manner, using different processes, and using a different economic model for success. It is not enough to simply be against. Being “progressive” means going a step further and working to find a safe way. If we could find a safe way forward, then Alaska has enough mineralization to form a sustaining economic sector.

    • Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

      Polarbear – point well taken but it is moot. The goal you describe has already been achieved. There are “responsible” ways to exploit such rescources. You may well ask why are they not used? The answer is quite simple. Profit. I’ll elaborate more in a somewhat later comment on this same thread.

  10. Zyxomma says:

    L&P borough, you and you alone might have the power to STOP PEBBLE MINE. Please, for the sake of the salmon, the environment, and your progeny, do so.

    I knew the ballot initiatives process was corrupt; I wasn’t aware it was [i]that[/i] corrupt!