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8/29/2019
PoV: Defend Alaska against foreign corporate interests

By AL GROSS

The proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay is the epicenter of crony capitalism, and the poster child for what’s wrong with politics.

On July 30, following a meeting between Gov. Dunleavy and President Trump on Air Force One, the EPA announced that it is doing away with a protection that the Canadian Pebble Mine operators viewed as an obstacle. No longer will these foreign developers have to worry about section 404 C of the Clean Water Act, which provides veto authority over dredge or fill operations that are shown to have harmful effects on aquatic life. Scientific evidence shows that the Pebble Mine footprint will cause irreversible damage to our wild Alaska salmon population. President Trump, Gov. Dunleavy, and the corporate Interests from Canada don’t seem to care.

As a fisherman, an Alaskan, and an American, I am outraged. As a U.S. senator, I will do everything in my power to stop this travesty from happening.

Southeast Alaskans have been fighting for action on transboundary mining issues from our congressional delegation ever since the doomed Canadian Mount Polley mine disaster in 2014. Gov. Dunleavy and President Trump should be working on transboundary mining protections, and implementing world class standards on the Canadian mines operating in our shared rivers. Instead, they have worked to allow a Canadian corporation to come into Alaska and conduct risky development in our critical local watersheds.

Like most Alaskans, my parents taught me how to harvest, clean and prepare salmon. It’s part of our way of life. It’s how I fill my freezer. My parents also taught me to protect our waterways and respect salmon for everything they provide to us. I am a born and raised Alaskan, am a doctor, a gillnetter, and am an ally to all fishermen. I will never abandon Alaska, or leave our resources vulnerable to anti-Alaskan Outside corporate interests.

Gov. Dunleavy’s efforts to clear the way for Pebble Mine erodes the Alaskan way of life and undercuts the public process that have made our fisheries world renowned.

Clearing obstacles for the proposed Pebble Mine and cheering the ultimate destruction that the open pit mine will wreak on Alaska’s largest sockeye run is an act of cultural genocide against Alaska Native people in Bristol Bay. Without healthy waterways, the people of Bristol Bay could lose sockeye, the main source of food and economic activity in the area. An attack on sockeye is an attack on Native communities along the Kvichak, the Nushagak, and Bristol Bay.

The proposed Pebble Mine is the single greatest threat to our Alaska wild salmon, and it has been fast-tracked by Gov. Dunleavy on behalf of a Canadian corporation. Sen. Ted Stevens said “Pebble Mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place.” He was right.

Gov. Dunleavy and President Trump’s treacherous deal to eliminate section 404 C of the Clean Water Act is the first step for their friends at Pebble Mine in following through with Phase One; building any mine, no matter how small initially. They will surely launch a second phase, in which they will design a larger mine. Once the phase one footprint of the Pebble Mine is established, it will undoubtedly grow. Corporate shareholders won’t allow operations to end after only 20 years when there’s more profit for the Canadian company to drain from Alaska. There will, undoubtedly, be a Phase Two.

Thankfully, the Pebble Mine won’t be built tomorrow. The project will need legislative approval, state and federal permits for the main footprint, and local permits for constructing the roads and bridges it will require. Unfortunately, because the permitting process has been greased by Dunleavy and his DEC commissioner, Jason Brune, the former public affairs and government relations manager of the Pebble Partnership, shovels could hit the ground as early as 2021.

Alaskans can’t wait until the 2022 election to defend ourselves against the governor’s cronyism. Elected officials should join Alaskans and speak out against the proposed Pebble Mine.

Alaska should be open for business, not for sale.

Born and raised in Juneau, Al Gross started commercial fishing at 14. Gross practiced orthopedic surgery in Southeast Alaska for over 20 years, before going back to earn a Master's in Public Health from U.C.L.A. in 2015, focusing on economics and comparing international health care systems. He currently is a candidate for the U.S. Senate.