By MARK HAMILTON
(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about the history of the Pebble Mine project in Alaska, from the perspective of someone who was part of the team trying to help it succeed against the odds of public opinion and propaganda).
Let me begin with a short story. When I first came to Alaska in 1988, the state was in a financial crisis, much of downtown Anchorage was boarded up, condos were selling for a quarter of their purchase price, and there was a very popular bumper sticker—which, although a bit crude, was humorous.
The bumper sticker said, “Please God let there be another oil boom; I promise we won’t piss it away this time.”
Well, Alaska, you just did!
Fact: The entire economic value of all the oil shipped from Prudhoe Bay is about $416 billion. The current economic value of Pebble Mine deposit’s discovered and inferred minerals is about $550 billion.
Now, it is only fair to note that the profit margins for mines is much tighter than oil, so we could not begin to tax that value at 35 percent as we do oil. On the other hand, and one of the reasons why the margin is smaller is that it takes a lot more people to mine and transport the discovered minerals. That means jobs.
We didn’t get that next oil boom, and we won’t get another Pebble Mine. Those are multi-generational discoveries. Besides, and I’ll talk to this later, any mine will need to have water, lots of water. That means there will be fish, and animals, resident and seasonal; there will be people. And that means there will be controversy.
We have demonstrated that we will shy away from or embrace the controversy, rather than wait for the science to decide.
When more than half of the population embraces the narrative of fear, it becomes political.
Once political, our elected officials, at the minimum cannot afford to support the mine, and finally will come out against the mine in order to get re-elected. Having the unfounded fear affect you, or believing the gross exaggerations (and flat-out lies) means you’ve been “pebbled.”
The overwhelming majority of the public has no knowledge about the specific development they are encouraged to oppose. For many, it represents an opportunity to virtue signal their love for the environment. Of course, you care about the environment; it’s probably a big piece of the reason you live in Alaska. You don’t love it anymore because you tweeted it. You have no more virtue because you donated to a cause selling fear. You already live in a state that holds 65 percent, by acreage, of all the Federal parks. That doesn’t include state parks or set-asides, or EVOS purchased reserves. You already live in a state that has 85 percent of all Federal wildlife areas. How much more do you need to feel committed to the environment?
I’ll tell you what the anti-development people want. They want it all. I’m not buying, “I’m not against mining, just this project”. Really, what mine are you for? “I’m not against oil drilling, just not THERE.” Oh? Please add into your assessment the reality that oil and minerals are where you find them. Where they are is where they will have to demonstrate that they will do no major harm to the environment.
You don’t have to let the developer build it; but it is senseless to support a preemptive dismissal of a project because someone, somehow tells you it cannot be developed without changing the world as you know it. Don’t let yourself be “pebbled.”
If any project will result in major harm to the environment, it will not get a permit. And shouldn’t. But you cannot decide the results of the Environmental Impact without allowing the process to happen.
Understand that a developer is dealing with the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars in order to go through the permitting process. They are aware of the regulations and believe they can be met. Maybe they can; maybe they can’t; but you can reasonably assume that no one is going to risk hundreds of millions of dollars on a project that can be dismissed before any science is presented.
Mark Twain once said: “It is easier to fool people than to convince people that they have been fooled.”
I am going to buck the odds and convince you that you have been fooled. You are not fools; I’m counting on that, but you have been fooled. You have been “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.