On the Kenai Peninsula, mining has been part of our economy since gold was discovered on the Russian River, and Cooper Landing was named for Joe Cooper who discovered gold there in 1896.
The August primary election is right around the corner, and Alaskans are being overloaded with information about candidates and issues. Ballot Measure 4 is no exception. Its proponents want you to believe Measure 4 is all about the Pebble Mine, but if you actually read the measure you realize that neither Pebble, Bristol Bay, nor anything specifically related to Pebble, are mentioned in the initiative.
Not one word. That's because Measure 4 isn't about the Pebble Mine. It can't be. Alaska's Constitution, Article XI, Section 7, specifically prevents special or local legislation by initiative and thus requires that Measure 4 be applied statewide.
To say that Measure 4 is about the Pebble Mine is deceptive at best. Measure 4 would apply to all large metal mines across the entire state.
Alaska has always been a place where honesty and straight talk are the guiding principles. What proponents of Measure 4 are doing is creating a false perception of Measure 4 to justify their agenda without consideration for the rest of Alaska.
The reason for the deception is the initiative, in truth, threatens the entire mining industry and therefore cannot be argued on its merits. In fact, Measure 4 is so poorly written that at the end of oral arguments about the measure before the Alaska Supreme Court on June 16, Justice Robert Eastaugh asked: "If it's taken us this long, all of us in this room, to figure this out, how long will it take the voters in the voting booth?"
What's also troubling about Measure 4 is the secret, unreported money funding the "Yes" vote campaign. A Washington, D.C.- based lobbying and special interest money group called the Americans for Job Security (AJS) has pumped more than $1.2 million into the "Yes" campaign. This shadow group, which has been found guilty of violating Alaska election laws in the past, refuses to disclose the source of its "soft" money.
After sifting through the rhetoric, it's important to understand what would happen in Alaska if Measure 4 became law.
First, Alaska's respected and thorough, fact-based regulatory review process would be replaced with an arbitrary, untested process. Alaska already has some of the strongest environmental regulations in the world, written to protect salmon and human health (18 AAC 70.020). The existing state and federal review process ensures that no permitting decision can be made until environmental studies are completed and reviewed by independent, qualified professionals.
Pogo Mine, Alaska's newest mine, took over four years to be permitted and was very thorough. The mining industry adheres to rigorous water quality standards and is subject to intense state and federal agency and public review. However, Measure 4 would unnecessarily replace these time-tested laws and procedures with a blank slate that would only be filled by regulations and court decisions written long after voters vote.
Second, uncertainty over Measure 4's unknown regulations risks new investment in Alaska's mining industry and thousands of existing and future jobs. Passage of Measure 4 would lead to expensive lawsuits and unnecessary red tape while the regulatory process grinds to a halt, threatening projects already underway, such as Aqqualuk at Red Dog or Donlin Creek, a promising project in Southwest Alaska.
Good jobs, many in rural areas, would be threatened and tax revenues for communities would be lost. Mining supports over 5,500 jobs in 100 communities, and generates hundreds of millions of dollars per year in state and local taxes, which helps build schools, roads and health care facilities. These benefits will be sacrificed if Measure 4 passes.
Alaska has a rich tradition of balancing the utilization of the state's vast natural resources while protecting our environment. Sadly, Measure 4 is not about Pebble, or salmon or even water, for that matter. It is about politics. It cynically creates false perceptions of one potential mining project with the goal of pitting Alaskans against one another in order to advance their own narrow agenda. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing that will threaten existing mines and thousands of working Alaskans. That's why the Kenai Chamber of Commerce, the Seldovia Chamber of Commerce and the Kenai Peninsula Homebuilders Association have stated their opposition to Measure 4.
Measure 4 places our jobs and businesses in jeopardy. Protect Alaska, vote "No" on 4.
Cynthia Toohey, an RN, is a former state legislator and part owner of the Crow Creek Mine, a family owned mine in Girdwood.
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