Ballot Measure 4, "An Act to Protect Alaska's Clean Water," is focused on preventing the certain disaster threatening the world's largest salmon run -- Pebble Mine. Nothing more, nothing less. Its intention is simple: Mining companies cannot destroy salmon spawning streams or discharge mine waste into these streams in amounts exceeding federal and state water quality standards. "Mixing zones" would be prohibited in salmon spawning streams.
Despite our opponent's rhetoric, we support mining in Alaska. Pebble is simply the wrong mine in the wrong place, and the risk to Bristol Bay is far too great. This is why the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, made up of 200 Native villages, endorses Ballot Measure 4.
It is about Pebble because every sulphide mine in conditions remotely resembling Pebble has polluted the surrounding waters. After all these months the mining industry has not produced a single example of one that has not. Yet the list of those that have is endless: Marcopper, Ok Tedi, Grasberg, Summitville, Zortman/Landusky, and on and on.
In fact, no acid generating mine has ever been built in an environment as economically important and ecologically significant as Pebble, let alone where the ground is saturated; the water table is at the surface; and where experts predict a quake of magnitude 7.7 or greater.
If this is not enough, consider that the companies involved in developing Pebble have no experience in northern mining. Anglo American has never planned or built a mine in North America, let alone under the extremely difficult conditions at Pebble. Their partner, Northern Dynasty has never planned or built anything. In their 2004 annual report, Northern Dynasty stated that Pebble is probably uninsurable because of accidents, spills, earthquake and "catastrophe." Yet, these companies want to build the largest open pit sulfide mine in North America with the largest tailings dam ever built to hold back the tailings.
Alaska has no decommissioning or reclamation statutes or regulations. Who will look after a huge abandoned mine that generates heavy metals and acid forever? Sooner or later, the ground will shake, and with the weight of the tailings dam and the naturally unstable geomorphology of the ground, billions of gallons of toxic tailings will slide down to the sea.
Our opponents want you to believe that this is not about Pebble. Why then has 53 percent of the $8.2 million they have thus far spent opposing us come from the Pebble Partnership? They say Ballot Measure 4 does not even mention Pebble. Of course it doesn't; by Constitutional law it can't. They say it was written and proposed in secret. Did the Alaskans who gathered 30,000 signatures do it secretly?
The mining industry has attacked us for receiving donations from Americans for Job Security, but, South African, British and Canadian companies who call themselves "Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown," have provided over 91 percent of the funds opposing us.
Our opponents claim Alaska salmon are already protected by the most stringent environmental regulations in the world. This is false. Before Governor Murkowski, Alaska regulations were solid and reasonable, but not now. Today they are overwhelmingly biased to approve a mine with as little critical review as possible.
In fact, the Fraser Institute, a pro-mining archconservative think-tank, in a 2007 survey of international mining company executives, reported that of 117 states, provinces and countries, only nine had lower taxes and easier environmental regulations than Alaska, and that only one state in the Union was more friendly to mining: Nevada.
Finally, consider this: all five operating hard rock mines in Alaska were permitted under pre-Murkowski regulations more rigorous than anything proposed under Measure 4.
In most circumstances, already proven mining methods and technologies are available to accommodate the intention of Measure 4, and our opponents have not produced even one mining engineer to demonstrate how salmon protection will block expansion or shut down existing mines. Waste dumps can be set back from salmon streams, diversion ditches can capture toxic waste at the dump toe and divert it to a treatment plant, well-designed bridges can be built to cross streams instead of haphazardly installed culverts, and so on.
Ballot Initiative 4 does not shut down the mining industry. Existing mines are excluded; expansion of existing mines is excluded; and mines of fewer than 640 acres are excluded. If there is any question about this, the state can amend the Act to strengthen the clear intent laid out in the initiative. Most mines could protect salmon streams -- but not in Bristol Bay.
Bruce C. Switzer, PhD, is the senior technical advisor for Alaskans for Clean Water.
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