It was in the Anchorage Daily News today – how the anti-Pebble Mine initiative was approved. It was pretty clear, given the amount of press coverage that the Pebble Project had that this was going to not only be a big event for Alaska, but also for the country. It is almost ironic how this whole affair became less and less about the people of the community, and more about a values system. As a rational person, one must ask the very important question – was the fact that this initiative passed the right thing?
Now, this initiative passing does NOT mean that the mine will never be built. People seem to believe that this vote will end this debate once and for all. That myth needs immediate debunking. In fact, the Pebble Partnership intends to challenging this in court next week. The Pebble Partnership seems to be of the mindset that this vote will be defeated in court.
To anyone who followed this debate closely, it quickly devolved from a rational discussion about what is best for Lake and Peninsula Borough, to a campaign of fear mongering and misleading the voters. This was on both sides. The tragedy is that neither side is innocent here. For a left-leaning voter, that can be a bit of an annoyance, because the goal of liberal political activists should be to encourage rational debate, even if that can never happen.
However, the ultimate thing to be considered is this – what about those living in Lake and Peninsula Borough? Quite sadly, the fishing industry in Southwest is not the glorious money-maker that those who were part of the Save the Salmon group seemed to miss. The fact is that the estimated income of the fishing industry is over $100 million. While that sounds like a lot, the problem is that a lot of that income is not going to the community. In fact, most of the Limited Entry Permits in Bristol Bay are to out of state companies, so the profits are going to them.
While the subsistence fishing is a valid risk to consider, if the bulk of profits for commercial fishing are going out of state, how does that help Lake and Peninsula? There is a real Catch-22 here – how did the anti-Pebble groups convince people that more money is a bad thing?
Those who were proponents of Pebble were showing how over 1,000 long-term jobs could be created. In an area that is economically depressed like Lake and Peninsula Borough, this could be a great thing. However, the battle went out of state, and then the message got totally lost.
It vaguely seems reminiscent of how the Exxon Valdez crisis was handled. Exxon apologized to the New York Times about it, which made Alaskans very, very angry. It was talking to people who didn’t live here about things that they didn’t care about. It totally ignored the issue – that this was an Alaskan issue, and the focus needed to be on Alaska.
When people like Robert Redford weigh in, it is easy to get lost in the celebrity attention. And it worked, apparently. Celebrities saying things about a state that they don’t live in got to a lot of people.
The real question now becomes – how exactly do those who are against Pebble propose fixing the economic depression that Lake and Peninsula, or rather, all of Rural Alaska is in? How exactly do they tell the people who are without significant opportunity for jobs that having less of them is a good thing? Subsistence is the one major good argument that has been made against Pebble, because getting food is very difficult in rural Alaska, but what about jobs?
If most of the commercial fishing permits are for out of state companies, how is that helping the residents of Bristol Bay? After all the talks about the salmon, the wildlife, and how Bristol Bay “doesn’t want Pebble,” that is the real problem. Pebble may not have been perfect, it may not have been the right answer, but when they are saying that $200+ billion are underneath the ground in Lake and Peninsula Borough, how can people look the impoverished community members in the eye and tell them that not doing what is right for their community is the right thing to do?
It is good to be environmentally conscious, but the fact is that something has to be done. Alright you anti-Pebble people, now the ball is in your court – if Pebble isn’t the answer – what is?