Project Report:
Economic Distortions & The Pebble Mine: Protecting Alaska’s World Class Salmon & Brown Bears
Purpose
- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Investigates causes tending to destroy or impair the free-market system.

Summary

The proposed Pebble mine threatens the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world as well as the highest concentration of brown bears on the planet. This project will address the economic imbalances in the permitting system that push risk and pollution onto Alaska's publicly-owned resources and the countless families and communities they support.

Movie: Pebble Redux
Movie: Pebble Redux

Description

Overview: The Alex C. Walker Foundation provided Cook Inletkeeper with grant support in December 2019 to highlight the economic distortions and related problems with the proposed Pebble mine in southwest Alaska. Due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Inletkeeper’s work – like the work of most businesses in the U.S. – has changed considerably since the start of this grant. Nonetheless, Inletkeeper has remained active and engaged in the Pebble project, and recent events have created some exceptionally high hurdles for the project moving forward.

Updates: Below please find updates on the Pebble project and the work Inletkeeper has engaged to stop it:

Pebble Endures One-Two Punch That May be a Knock-Out Blow: Since first meeting with Pebble proponents back in 2003, the Pebble mine has taken some unexpected twists and turns. None, however, match the events that have unfolded during the waning days of Alaska summer in 2020. First, Donald Trump Jr. – who’s an avid outdoorsman and who’s fished Bristol Bay waters several times – tweeted his opposition to the mine. Soon after, Tucker Carlson aired a piece on his popular Fox News show, with Bass Pro Shop’s CEO Johnny Morris, opposed to a massive mine in the headwaters of the richest sockeye salmon fishery in the world. Together, these events rattled investors and created wholesale uncertainty around the permitting process. Then, the real bombshell hit: in mid-September, the Environmental Investigation Agency – a nonprofit based in DC and London – released the “Pebble Tapes.” The tapes provide secret recordings of actors pretending to be investors, talking candidly with Pebble executives about the proposed mine, Alaska politicians and the insider game they’ve been playing to get needed permits. Among many revelations, the Pebble executives admitted the mine would not be the 20 year project described in their permit applications, but rather, a 180-200 year mine that would gouge a giant hole in the Bristol Bay watershed. The revelations on the tapes proved so damming, in fact, they led to the resignation of Pebble’s CEO, Tom Collier. Inletkeeper amplified both these significant stories on social media and in weekly news alerts, and helped to generate considerable public attention to Pebble’s dishonest claims and the phony permitting process behind them.

Advocacy & Legal Challenges: In April 2020, a federal court dismissed the case Inletkeeper and over a dozen other groups brought against EPA for its efforts to unravel an important Obama-era protection for Bristol Bay. This is an unfortunate setback but not an unexpected one. Under Obama, EPA had conducted an analysis and made a preliminary decision to deny Pebble a section 404/wetlands permit. This action set-off a fire storm of controversy, as large oil, gas and mining corporations nationwide railed against EPA’s use of the so-called “pre-emptive veto” to deny Pebble a wetlands permit before it had even entered the formal federal permitting process. Not surprisingly, the Trump EPA reversed course, and Inletkeeper and others sued to try to force EPA to retain the Obama-era safeguards. However, because EPA had never finalized the rule to deny Pebble’s wetlands permit, and because the courts grant considerable discretion to federal agencies, the court ruled EPA could legally rescind its previous determination without violating federal law.

Additionally, the Army Corps recently announced a significant change in the preferred route for the Pebble export road and terminal. During the entire EIS comment period, the Army Corps and Pebble held-out the southern route – which led from the mine via ice-breaking ferries and overland trucks to Amakdedori Creek in Lower Cook Inlet – as the preferred alternative. This route bisected the spectacular resources of Lake Clark and Katmai National Parks, and sat in close proximity to the McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, creating significant disruptions for the highest concentration of brown bears on the planet. In early May, however, the Army Corps announced the northern route – which excludes ice-breaking ferries and enters Cook Inlet near Iniskin Bay – as the new preferred alternative. While this abrupt change creates new challenges for Inletkeeper and its partners as we respond with revised strategies, it bodes well for our efforts for two reasons: it entails fewer impacts to important brown bear and wild salmon habitat, and it’s highly unlikely Pebble can get permission from relevant Native Alaskan land-owners to use the surface and subsurface estates for its new export corridor alignment.

Additionally, because the coronavirus has eliminated our ability to engage with Alaskans in-person, we’ve stepped up our online and social media advocacy. Here is a sampling of some recent posts & links:


• AGENCY EXPERTS: PEBBLE REVIEW STILL FAILS THE TEST
https://inletkeeper.org/2020/05/12/agency-experts-pebble-review-still-fails-the-test/

• FEIGE SHOWS STATE BIAS IN PEBBLE LETTER TO CORPS
https://inletkeeper.org/2020/04/29/feige-shows-state-bias-in-pebble-letter-to-corps/

• DAN SULLIVAN NEEDS TO TELL THE ARMY CORPS: SUPPORT ALASKANS, NOT PEBBLE

• TRUMP HIDES BEHIND VIRUS TO RAMP-UP SHAMELESS ASSAULT ON ALASKAN WATERS
https://inletkeeper.org/2020/03/31/trump-hides-behind-virus-to-ramp-up-shameless-assault-on-alaskan-waters/

• NEW REPORT TELLS THE REAL STORY ABOUT LARGE MINES IN ALASKA
https://inletkeeper.org/2020/03/09/new-report-tells-the-real-story-about-large-mines-in-alaska/

• MIKE DUNLEAVY VS. COASTAL ALASKANS
https://inletkeeper.org/2020/03/02/mike-dunleavy-vs-coastal-alaskans/

• ALASKA LEADS THE NATION IN TOXIC RELEASES FOR A GOOD REASON: LARGE MINES LIKE PEBBLE ARE TOXIC
https://inletkeeper.org/2020/02/19/alaska-leads-the-nation-in-toxic-releases-for-a-good-reason-large-mines-like-pebble-are-toxic/

• MIKE DUNLEAVY DOESN’T KNOW ALASKAN VALUES
https://inletkeeper.org/2020/07/16/mike-dunleavy-doesnt-know-alaskan-values/

• PEBBLE CAN AFFORD FANCY LOBBYISTS BUT NOT A FEASIBILITY STUDY TO SHOW IT HAS A REAL PROJECT
https://inletkeeper.org/2020/07/28/pebble-can-afford-fancy-lobbyists-but-not-a-feasibility-study-to-show-it-has-a-real-project/

• THE PEBBLE PARTNERSHIP: WHEN LIARS TELL ALASKANS TO “TRUST THE PROCESS”
https://inletkeeper.org/2020/10/02/the-pebble-partnership-when-lying-liars-tell-alaskans-to-trust-the-process/

Mining Taxes, Royalties & Bonding: During summer 2020, Inletkeeper started the research process needed to compile a short report on Alaska mining taxes and royalties. In collecting and analyzing data, however, it became clear this project component required a higher-level professional assessment to produce the intended results. One reason for the need for a heightened analysis stems from the fact that oil and gas are no longer generating the revenues they once did to support the state budget, and mining executives, trade groups, bureaucrats and politicians are hailing mining as the state’s new economic savior. In response, Inletkeeper contracted with economist Thomas Power at Power Associates to take a more comprehensive look at the fiscal impacts of mining in Alaska, and the subsidies the mining companies enjoy to maximize their profits. Inletkeeper has worked with Mr. Powers in the past – to rebut economic arguments around the now-defunct Chuitna coal mine proposal - and his history of work on mining economics is substantial.

Bear Viewing Economics: In late 2019, Inletkeeper premiered its new film – Pebble Redux: The Bears of Amakdedori – at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, and introduced hundreds of new viewers to the risks posed by the Pebble mine to the incredible brown bears around Lower Cook Inlet. However, due to the issues surrounding the coronavirus, Inletkeeper could not implement the larger film tour in the Lower 48 and across Alaska it had originally planned. As a result, we worked closely with local groups and Natural Habitat Adventures to hold an online premiere of our film in April, which produced some incredible numbers:

• 28,700 people reached with event advertising
• 12k views of the trailer video
• 1,897 people logged-in and watched the premiere and listened to local experts describe the Pebble project and its impacts
• 243 comments/questions submitted about the Pebble mine permitting process during the event
• 434 online actions taken: letters submitted to Federal + State Delegations to pause Army Corp permitting during pandemic response and raise awareness of Pebble issue across the country.
• 420 Text to Action responses - Text Reply included the No Pebble Bear logo image (see attached) for use in social media

Since then, Inletkeeper has hosted two more film showings exclusively for Alaskan audiences, and the response has been extremely positive.

Conclusion: Despite the radically changed circumstance brought about by the pandemic, Inletkeeper and its partners continue to capitalize on the bewildering series of events that have captured the public’s attention and put the Pebble mine on life support. Although there remains a strong likelihood the Trump Administration will grant Pebble the federal permits it needs, Pebble’s stock price hovers around $.85/share and its overall finances are abysmal. Furthermore, after the “Pebble Tapes,” Pebble’s credibility with politicians and regulators is now in shambles. Finally, the new preferred route for the export facility is un-permittable under current land ownership regimes, and as a result, there’s no clear path forward for the mine. Together, these issues paint a dark picture for Pebble’s future. Now, Inletkeeper is turning its sites to the larger issue of mining taxes and royalties reform in Alaska, to ensure projects like Pebble can never slip by without paying their fair share.

Map: Revised Pebble Export Route
Revised Pebble Export Route

Purpose

This project will satisfy the Walker Foundation’s guidelines by:


• Addressing the causes of economic imbalances by supporting advocacy and legal challenges aimed at internalizing the externalities proposed in the Pebble mine plan, with particular focus on salmon, bear and beluga whale habitat at the Amakdedori export facility in Lower Cook Inlet;
• Investigating causes tending to destroy or impair the free-enterprise system by producing an analysis of Alaska’s mining tax, royalty and bonding structure as it relates to the Pebble mine;
• Disseminating information on the results and findings of the report “The Economic Contribution of Bear Viewing in Southcentral Alaska, which the Foundation helped produce. This project will also disseminate information and organize Alaskans to take action around the legal challenges and mining taxes/royalties components of the project discussed above.

Scope

While this project's geographic focus is southcentral/southwest Alaska, its scope is national, because it explores and addresses issues around economic imbalances and externalities implicated in environmental permitting nationwide.

Information Dissemination

Information for this project has been distributed to traditional media outlets and through social channels across the country and across the world. There's an amazing interest in and following for large coastal brown bears, and Inletkeeper has worked with its partners at World Wildlife Fund, National Parks Conservation Alliance and the Friends of McNeil River to secure stories in the New York Times, National Geographic, the Anchorage Daily News, CNN and many other outlets. Additionally, the project's social media presence has been significant, with various known "influencers" getting tens of thousands of people to engage on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. While there are various reasons why the Army Corps pushed the Pebble transportation corridor away from the bears at Amakdedori Creek, the strong publicity around the area and the threats to it certainly played a significant role.

Project Link https://inletkeeper.org/2020/07/08/pebble-redux-the-bears-of-amakdedori-full-film-now-online/

Amount Approved
$15,000.00 on 12/9/2019 (Check sent: 12/17/2019)


Attachments
Movie: Pebble Redux
Map: Revised Pebble Export Route

Contacts


Bob Shavelson
Inletkeeper, Cook Inletkeeper

Posted 11/9/2019 4:12 PM
Updated   10/10/2020 2:47 AM

  • Nonprofit


 
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