Anne Coray: Denial of Pebble permit an empty calorie victory in Bristol Bay battle
The news was announced just before Thanksgiving. Alaskans, commercial fishermen and environment-minded individuals around the nation raised fists and glasses in celebration.
We’d been battling this monster for more than a decade, and suddenly it looked like our efforts had sunk a dagger deep into Pebble’s midsection. Whether or not the steel struck a vital organ remains to be seen; that will be determined by the incoming Biden administration. Applying the Environmental Protection Agency’s 404(c) section of the Clean Water Act to the Bristol Bay drainage could do it.
But victory is victory, no matter how one achieves it. Right?
Maybe not. Make no mistake: Of course I raised my glass and toasted. Of course I shouted, ‘Right on!’ But the drink was punch, and it had an off taste. I wondered if the fruit juices contained an artificial sweetener.
Because if Donald Trump Jr., Bass Pro Shops CEO, Johnny Morris, and former Chief of Staff to Vice President, Mike Pence, Nick Ayers, hadn’t come out in opposition to the project, would our voices ever have been acknowledged? Probably not.
I’ve weighed in often enough on environmental issues or political appointments to understand the system: “Thank you very much for your input,” followed by the implied ”but these decisions are made by those more powerful than you, so this is only a guise to make you believe your opinion matters.”
I’m trying to put a positive spin on it. Perhaps all of us who testified, wrote letters, hounded their legislators and donated money to fight the mine did make a difference. Word got out, in a big way. But there’s that sick sweet taste in my mouth. The Army Corps of Engineers only acted according to how it was told to act. I’ve no doubt that, had President Donald Trump not leaned heavily on the agency to deny the permit, the Corps would have run the permitting through as easily as toxic water rushes through a breached dam.
Therefore, a part of me is angry — furious, really — realising that good science and logic had less to do with this decision than a president’s whim in humouring his eldest son. I know, thank Gaia the son likes to fish, and has spent time in Bristol Bay. It’s a good outcome. But still.
The damage the Trump administration has done to the environment during its tenure is unconscionable. In Alaska, Pebble has got the most press and is arguably the largest threat aside from oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but there’s more.
With Trump at the helm, the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife service implemented a ‘Wildlife Rule’ that allows bear baiting and killing of wolf pups in their dens on public lands; the Tongass National Forest was exempted from the Roadless Rule, which meant that logging could proceed in old-growth forests; the Ambler Road, which would run through the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and open the northwest part of the state up to further mining, is on the table, arrested only by ongoing litigation. Thank you, Tanana Chiefs Conference, for your interference.
And nationwide? I knew it would be bad when Scott Pruitt was selected to head the EPA. Pruitt was famous, or infamous, for having himself sued the EPA 13 times. I can’t think of a more qualified candidate for the job. But Pruitt was fired, and his successors were even worse.
Despite my cynicism, I believe we must continue to pressure our elected officials to pay attention to:
1. Experts in the field — and this does not mean people with degrees hired by companies to do their bidding. This means independent scientists and professors.
2. Public input — people who care enough to voice their beliefs, based on either first-hand experience or legitimate research.
It’s quite simple, really. If an overwhelming number of individuals weigh in against a development project, shouldn’t the majority prevail? I think that is the concept behind democracy.
• First published in Anchorage Daily News.
Anne Coray’s debut novel Lost Mountain, a love story inspired by the Pebble Mine, is forthcoming from West Margin Press in March 2021. She divides her time between Homer, Alaska, and her birthplace on remote Lake Clark.