By MARK HAMILTON
(Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series by Mark Hamilton about the history of the Pebble Project in Alaska.)
On May 11, 2017, EPA agreed to a settlement agreement with the Pebble Limited Partnership to resolve litigation from 2014 relating to EPA’s pre-emptive veto of a permit application.
The favorable settlement in the suit against EPA for having issued a pre-emptive veto was not a great victory, except that it added to Alaska’s track record of successfully challenging a huge federal overreach.
Pebble was allowed to enter the NEPA process, joining tens of thousands of projects since 1970 that did not have to face the veto prior to applying.
The other piece of the settlement is instructive: The EPA was instructed “in 90 days” to begin the process of removing the veto (preliminary determination in legal terms).
That was in May of 2017. EPA did nothing but promise as the time moved on, and finally, as America was about to change the presidency, EPA rejected the requirement and tossed it over to the Trump Administration.
The delay and postponement was despicable but ultimately effective, since, 27 months after the settlement requirement (most under President Trump), EPA withdrew the veto.
This was quickly jumped on as “Trump removed the veto.” That is not so; the settlement was under the Obama Administration; Trump ultimately carried out the provisions of the settlement that Obama’s EPA refused to complete.
Understand how discussions about environmental impact are stacked against the developer.
When a project is envisioned after preliminary geological findings indicate there’s a worthwhile deposit, the developer will begin to secure leases for the area. At least at this time, if not earlier, it will be public knowledge that there is the possibility of a mine.
The narrative of fear can begin immediately. Sheer size can be utilized to instill apprehension. Describing the removal of billions of tons of rock, then storing the huge percentage of the crushed rock after minerals have been removed (tailings) yields numbers that are truly beyond the imagination of the average citizen. Assigning danger to those numbers is pure speculation, but they set the stage for the introduction of environmental degradation. Today virtually everyone, to include developers, is attuned to the need to be environmentally aware.
The preservationists begin their campaign buoyed by the sheer size of mining projects. This plays well into what otherwise might be seen as hysterical claims: “Unimaginable spoilage,” “enormous degradation” are more believable when you are already size shocked.
Adding to your worry and consternation about spoilage and degradation, you will hear the area chosen for the mine site is one of the deity’s grandest creations. Look for the buzz word “pristine.”
Every road, every airport, every port, every railroad was built on a once-pristine area, and the same holds true for every house and every school.
Further you will be warned that this pristine area will be defiled in “perpetuity.” You see “forever” just doesn’t have the ring of careful consideration that “perpetuity” suggests.
Don’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.