Pebbled: Environmental industry has fear-mongering down to an art



(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series by Mark Hamilton about the history of the Pebble Project in Alaska.)

I’m not going to attempt to re-try the Pebble mine; it looks like that has been lost. In this series of columns, I will use data from that project simply because I have that data, and I can demonstrate the absurd assertions that doomed that project. 

In this case, the limping truth will not save Pebble mine, but it might help you avoid being “pebbled” again.

Looking back at the history of Alaska’s move toward statehood, there are some characteristics of that effort that need to be rediscovered.

First, the citizens of the territory understood that circumstances had to change, or Alaska would remain essentially a colony useful primarily for its abundant resources. Those circumstances remain today in no small way. A big difference lay in the fact that Alaskans in the 1950s were aware. They understood that the current situation would doom Alaska’s economic future. They became aware that the resources, primarily fish and minerals, with some timber were largely controlled by other states. The focus was primarily the fish traps and the near monopoly of Washington state’s ownership of that asset. 

I note with a bit of dark humor that our victory was short lived:  All we got was the state; Seattle kept the fish. Nevertheless, fish are not the problem remaining to be solved.  

Fish are a great resource, healthy, renewable, and heavily regulated. Barring some draconian modification of free enterprise, our fish will always be overwhelming owned by corporations outside the state. There are some real issues with some aspects of the fishing industry that I will cover in some detail later, but ownership of permits is a trend unlikely to change.

At the federal level, the primary point of contention during the statehood debate was Alaska’s economic prospects.  Those against the move for statehood argued that a would-be state with no infrastructure and no businesses to provide a tax base would surely become a ward of the federal government. Those for statehood successfully argued that the enormous resources of the state would allow an economic future.

Less than a decade later, the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay made the proponents for statehood look prescient.  Planning the movement of that oil required one of the most impressive engineering feats of the time—The Trans Alaska Pipeline System — TAPS. This magnificent project introduced Alaskans to new, yet still ineffective, opponent to our economic future — adamant environmentalists.  

For the moment I will not explore the motivations of these opponents, but we should be familiar with their warnings.  Hugely credentialed scientists warned:  The pipeline will destroy the caribou herd, “caribou will go the way of the buffalo,” the pipeline will cause uncontrollable permafrost melting that is irreversible, earthquakes will make the pipeline a sprinkler system of crude oil, the pipeline will destroy Native culture.  Dire predictions they were, and all wrong. Fifty years later, none of these things have happened.

The pipeline, 800 miles long, crossing three mountain ranges and crossing 30 major rivers and streams could never be permitted today. That may seem a bold assertion even though backed by every regulatory and permit expert I have asked the question.  What has changed?  The engineering is better today; the risks made even less likely today.  

But the opponents are much more formidable. The primary reason for their ascendance is at least two-fold.  First is the use of public media to rally individuals to take as fact the narratives of fear. Secondly, there is more than a cottage industry that makes a living off of selling warnings.  

The formula is simple, repeatable, and lucrative. Begin with a picture of beauty.  In Alaska, that is not much of a trick.  Provide a narrative: This project (fill in the blank) will destroy this beauty unless you send us money to oppose it.

As most scams, the message attracts the unaware and the greedy.  The lack of awareness is remarkable.  In ads opposing drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in one case the picture of beauty that was supposedly at stake was a picture of the Tongass National Forest, 1,000 air miles away. There were several different views of Mount Denali, and reportedly one anti-drilling ad that used a picture of the Andes Mountains.  

I understand how one could fool people living in California and New York, but citizens of Alaska? 

Alaskans shouldn’t be pebbled.

The “Pebbled” series at Must Read Alaska is authored by Mark Hamilton. After 31 years of service to this nation, Hamilton retired as a Major General with the U. S. Army in July of 1998. He served for 12 years as President of University of Alaska, and is now President Emeritus. He worked for the Pebble Partnership for three years before retiring. The series continues next week. The first installment is linked below.


  1. Comparing the TAPS to Pebble is about like comparing an apple to an orange. Hamilton has expressed his civilian leadership quite thoroughly I the mess called the University of Alaska!!

  2. ‘First is the use of public media to rally individuals to take as fact the narratives of fear,’
    It is not the use of the media, it is complete ownership of the anti-development media harping the liberal talking points 24/7 to a gullible audience, product of public schooling too lazy to educate themselves to facts. When I was a child I recall shows praising development. We were taught in school that development meant advancement of mankind and we would push to the moon and beyond because no obstacle could prove insurmountable. We toured a foundry in grade school. I even recall Canadian money showing refineries and production on the back of the bills! But no more. The leftist progressive communists (but I repeat myself) lock up development to return the masses to abject poverty while only themselves can enjoy the fruits of advances. Manipulating the masses with fully owned, compliant media, in conjunction with uneducation for generations, leaves the masses believing that the pipeline is a crude sprinkler system and the Tongass in the Andes is part of the ANWR Coastal Plain where antelope roam. Water comes from the tap, bread from the store, gas from the pump and electricity from the plug where unicorn farts and fairy dust hide in the walls.

  3. Fishing vs. Mining.
    If one looks to the Constitution we Alaskans adopted at Statehood, the contrast between fishing and mining could not be greater.
    Fishing’s favorite traps were banned in Ordinance 3, that accompanied the vote on the Constitution. The Constitution, Art 8, S. 15, prohibits granting fishermen any exclusive right or priviledge.
    A Constitution focused on resource development and utilization for the benefit of its people grants the State the power to limit or restrict fishing in its waters.
    In contrast, the Constitution, Art. 8, S 11, grant’s to an individual an ownership right to the minerals he/she discovers.
    The contrast reflects Alaskan’s experience. Fishermen are perceived to have the capability and a long history of overharvesting a limited resource. Alaskans had seen fishermen take all the fish from a river system, then move on to the next river (Dr. Forbes, personal comm).
    So when fishermen falsely claim miners may harm fish, they are most accurately describing themselves and the history of fishing and of the many ecosystems they once stripped of fish. They don’t know mining. Are they falsely accusing miners of acting like fishermen?
    Fishermen could offer to return a portion of the wealth they harvest from Alaskan fish, by paying fees or taxes in an amount greater than we pay to regulate them. They could add even a single $ billion over their cost to help pay for schools and the State from whom they benefit so greatly. But my bet is they will continue to convince the Legislature their industry should be subsidized by oil, and minerals, and the rest of us.
    It’s a great game, fishing. With many fine people involved. Few of whom realize how dependent they are on the regulatory womb in which they generate profits. Nor that the taxes and fees they pay don’t cover the costs we bear.
    As oil diminishes, as minerals, like the copper at Pebnle, are blocked from paying for our State, is it time to reconsider the taxes we receive for our fish?

  4. Mark Hamilton speaks from both sides of his mouth. Talk to the faculty at UAF who teach at the old School of Mines. Yes, THAT old school Hamilton dissolved and merged with other departments to make room for a multi-million $$$ refurbishment of their old building ……. so a Native Cultural and Native Art’s program could be specifically addressed. Thanks Mr. Hamilton for your sincerity and honesty towards the mining community in Alaska. There is nothing like padding the billfold from both ends of the equation…….is there(?). Nothing like trying to fool the public and leave a double legacy……is there(?).

  5. Alaska state government is complicit in the continual storm of outsiders destroying our ability to expand our economy. If state government would use the ability to disseminate facts when this BS starts and would deny any financial support to those that align with those outside forces, Alaska would be more likely to be able to advance our economy.

  6. JHSlone: U of A has always been a white elephant. Hamilton had nothing to do with that. I knew Augenbaugh, Metz, and Skudrick (I knew them verbally, so excuse my mis-spelling their names) of the mining geology department at U of A Fairbanks, back in the day.

    BCampbell: Put a moratorium on commercial fishing. Personal use only, for all Alaska residents.

    NPPatriot: Attacking the messenger still doesn’t diminish his message. Also, the Natives brought in much needed subsidies at a time when U of A couldn’t afford a dedicated team of lobbyists.

    RRubey: The majority of our legislators are outsiders, at least in heart. Their alliances are to enriching their pocket-books. FBI continuously places Alaska’s government as first, second, or third most corrupt in the union.

  7. AK: Add that the CCP has co-opted the EnviroNazis, to help keep America’s energy and mineral sectors suppressed, to make China more competitive on the world markets.

  8. I cannot roll with Mark Hamilton as any kind of spokesperson for the Alaska mining industry. His career is entirely served with hefty federal and state budgets. A life-long military career (thank you), followed by 10 years as the President of the University of Alaska, where he lived glamorously in a rent-free mansion, not to mention a high six-figure salary.
    Hamilton watered down the storied School of Mines and merged it into a generalized multi-discipline institution. His desire to appease the Natives with their own totally refurbished cultural building (the old School of Mines building) was racially discriminatory on its face. It serves no value to members of other racial classes and is exclusionary as a campus facility for other races.
    Mr. Hamilton has no experience, skills qualifications, or degrees in mining engineering, or in closely related topics. He’s strictly a political mouthpiece. His short tenure as a Pebble Mine promoter was misplaced and a disaster for the project. Pebble will never be built.
    Next time a Canadian firm desires to place another foothold on Alaska soil, they should do a better job of seeking promoters who can actually address the technical aspects of mineral development, and have a background in that area or discipline. Hamilton has neither. Choosing someone with a provable de minimus record for advancing the mining industry …… to suddenly being well-paid to promote the highly controversial mine……was not a wise choice.

  9. In the words coming out of Kaktovik, AK in the recent news headline, “our village is not a national park.” This goes for the entire Southwest region. These two different regions are people’s homes, not some democrat elite vacation destination.

  10. PGeivette: You appear to have too much info at hand, for the average poster. You’re too absolute in your assessment of several issues. “Pebble will never be built” sounds agenda driven.
    Further, argumentum ad hominem is the default position when one is avoiding making an admission of defeat on the merits.
    Counter his points, one by one, if you can.

  11. If TAPS had been the worlds largest earthen dam built on thousands of feet of “sponge” at the headwaters of the worlds largest salmon fishery; there’d have been yuge environmental catastrophes.
    TAPS was not built by Canadian mining companies with a history of environmental issues, not having enough bonding to cover disasters, and having an easy exit.
    Wrong mine in the wrong location.
    ‘Tis a pity it did not occur in a beneficial location.

  12. Josephdj:
    Thank you for an opportunity to respond. Hamilton has written a short article on his simplified view of resource development in Alaska. A compressed time-line of events into a short essay that most Alaska History 201 students at UAA would be expected to crank out on a take-home assignment. Hamilton’s argumentation is not newly-sluiced material. There are some old Alaska miners still working their summer digs who could present the brutal facts of the mining industry up here with far more expression than Mr. Hamilton. Hamilton is a relative new-comer to Alaska. His tenure up here was post-pipeline and I doubt he ever turned over a shovelful of dirt in search of AU.
    This was not an ad hominem attack on the retired general/president. It is a matter of record and fact that he was the unwise choice to serve as a spokesperson for pro-Pebble development, and for the Alaska mining industry in general. While at UAF he had no record of helping the School of Mines, a department that served a fruitful test of time, and was the cornerstone of the origins of our beloved institution (since 1917). In controversion, Hamilton helped destroy the School of Mines. His record as president shows a very heavy hand in building-up Administrative positions (much like the military does) and spending oodles of state money for cultural programs that generate zero revenues back to the state.
    Hamilton can deny this in a future writing and I hope he does. The detailed facts of record will refute anything he states in the opposite.
    The take-away and irony of his recent article is this:
    a proud man who now speaks from a point of view that was inherently missing during a time when he was in a position to steer the ship in the direction he now wishes. Confusion?
    Politics of the day, place and manner? Hypocracy? His true record as the captain of UA shows an aversion to the mining industry.
    You be the judge.

  13. Paul,
    What say you about all of the mining schools across this nation that have been boarded up and completely shuttered due to the off shoring of intellectual mining expertise as well as the off shoring of actual mining jobs? Did Gen. Hamilton have something to do with the failure of all of those schools as well, or was it possibly due to the part the environmental movement has played in shipping our mining sector overseas into much less (if any) regulation?

  14. Paul Geivette: My family, on my father’s side, have been in mining since before I was born. My uncle, Hank Speaker worked the North Fork Harrison for decades. I had 20 claims on Bonanza Creek, the one off of mile 114, Steese Highway.
    It is my view that the EPA, with activist environmentalists embedded within, in concert with Trout Unlimited, and etc., did the most to harm funding for anything mining.
    When they came out with their turbidity and other standards, the majority of us didn’t have the finances to comply. Our operations were just too small to afford the extra costs. There are few operating mines in the Circle Mining district now, because of this.
    During that era, to present, the EnviroNazis have been the elephant in the room. Whatever unfavorable influence Hamilton may have had has to be minor, compared.
    I googled U of A School of Mining, from several different directions. All I found about Hamilton were accolades. I may have missed the reference, but I didn’t find your name anywhere in that search.
    However, I did find a Paul Gravette associated with environmentalist activists. Coincidence?
    The EnviroNazis are in the habit and practice of flying under false colors. You raised my suspicions because you sound so much like one. “Say it isn’t so, Babe.”

  15. Steve-O:
    Yes, the top mining schools around the country (CO, PA, MT) are not operating like they did in the 60’s and 70’s, however, their sovereign identities as fully functional, stand-alone schools have not been watered down like the UA School of Mines became under Mark Hamilton. Prior to Hamilton, the UA had an excellent reputation, even internationally, and recruited foreign students into graduate programs.
    Yes, I’m intimately familiar with the creeks that you mentioned and with the water quality and effluent discharge restrictions promulgated under section 402. Those were travesties to the mining industry. And along came the new state regulations under ADEC, as well as the Left-wing greenies in Juneau during the 80’s and 90’s, advancing legislation that further restricted mining, especially for the small mines. Large scale mines could afford the burden of environmental costs.
    I am not an environmentalist in-hiding. LOL. I just resent people who use a platform to advance a narrative which is contraindicated to the prior facts. Mr. Hamilton is welcome to defend himself here and I will gladly debate him with the facts. The record shows that he was not a strong proponent of the mining industry while serving as UA President. He diminished the School of Mines by cutting their budget, merging their stand alone school into other departments and he gave away the School of Mines building to the Native faction on campus for purposes that appears to be in-step with the Liberal university crowd. That cost of appeasement had a high price tag……total refurbishment of the original building into a cultural hall, only for Natives. To me, that is racist and discriminatory on its face, and should not be part of a state-funded budget. As president, Hamilton lobbied for those funds.
    Later, he emerged as a well-paid proponent of the Pebble Mine and to the mining industry in Alaska. In my opinion this speaks directly to hypocracy. My guess is that Mark Hamilton is more of a politician type, and not a true diplomat for the industry.

  16. PGeivette: Fine, I will accept that you’re probably not PGravette, nor one of the EnviroNazis. I will also allow that Hamilton may have done more harm than good for the U of A School of Mining. However, his series hasn’t addressed any of that so far.
    Hamilton joined PLP to do a narrowly defined job, as PR spokes-person. I have met him more than once, spoke with him more than once. Every time he impressed me as simply someone doing the job he was hired for.
    Hamilton was never in a position of authority to steer the Hunter/Dickenson, Northern Dynasty Minerals, Pebble Limited Partnership dynasty in any particular direction. His position with U of A is, on it’s face, immaterial to his position with the PLP.
    Your disparaging him for perceived faults at U of A has no bearing, directly or indirectly with his performance, or failure of, with the PLP. Your personal opinion of him, justifiable or not, fails to enhance our hearing of his account of Pebble’s demise.
    Whatever personal failings he may or may not have had elsewhere is in the category of I just don’t care.
    Neither do I care about your personal opinion of him. To sum up matters, may I suggest that you find some other venue to vent your spleen against him. To date, you’ve only been a distraction in this thread.

  17. Sorry to interfere with my own opinions, buster. I read your opinions all over MRAK, and you have many. The facts are the facts. The record stands. You can be impressed with him all you want, or be his personal apologist for all I care. He doesn’t impress me, and I don’t care much for hypocricy either.

  18. PGeivette: Your observations are correct. I’m all over MRAK because I’m retired and don’t have a life. However, I try to build up and not tear down. My “agenda” means that I often have combined views, sometimes contradictory.
    The Pebble mine is a sore spot with me because the Bristol Bay area is impoverished, and needs jobs. The EnviroNazis seen an opportunity to get more DONATIONS, and co-opted the Native leadership to oppose Pebble.
    I’ve been involved with the Pebble issue since the mid-80’s. It’s been a losing battle. The Seattle and Portland fishing fleets own the lion’s share of Alaska’s commercial fishing. The processors hire foreigners.
    Half of my life I’ve lived where I couldn’t get a job. Even now, in retirement, I live on $1400 per month. The last thing I, and my people need are those who are helping keep us impoverished, simply for their “feel good” agendas.
    So, maybe I get too personal with the Pebble issue. Maybe I should have just ignored you. But no matter how correct you may be about Hamilton, your disparaging comments just help drive us a little further into a lower state of disorder. To us, you are numbered with the destroyers.

  19. Josephdj:
    Well, don’t mean it that way, sir. Sorry if I offended you personally. That was my not my intent. I was actually hoping the Pebble Mine would get the green light too. Just not by pretenders.
    Good luck to you.

  20. JOSEPHDJ, while working in a village there was a meeting about Donlin Gold. I will never forget her, in her Armani suit coming off the Lear Jet, standing up to oppose the project because it would ruin the ‘quaint’ lifestyle in the village.

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