After the disappointing rollbacks of important regulations like the predator control rule for federal wildlife refuges, we had good news last week when the Senate voted down the repeal of the Bureau of the Land Management’s rule limiting venting, flaring, and leaks of methane from oil and gas production. Senate Republicans were concerned that repealing the rule would preclude future regulation of methane waste.
Yet, despite the surprise vote, most days bring another threat to the strength of our democracy and the well-being of our planet.
Disregarding the health of water, food and culture
Congress and the White House continue to hastily repeal rules that protect our water, air, land, workplace safety, privacy and health. Cutting the rules that protect us may drive up industry profits, but it more potently disregards the health of the American people and our environment.
Making this disregard loud and clear, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke toured the Bears Ears National Monument this week with a political operative tied to dark money groups funded by the Koch Brothers. Zinke did not meet with tribal leaders, despite their respectful request. He instead spent the day with a man who wants to undo the Bears Ears monument designation in order to access its oil and gas.
Zinke’s message? That money buys access and that the years of hard work by tribal leaders to protect their cultural heritage and way of life mean nothing.
Bristol Bay will hold fast
The people of Bristol Bay know the feeling. Last week, the Canadian mining conglomerate Northern Dynasty, known in Alaska as Pebble Limited Partnership, announced a settlement of its lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. The agreement between Pebble and the new leadership of the EPA undermines Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay–protections based on twice peer-reviewed science that concludes that mining in Bristol Bay will harm the salmon fishery, water quality, and subsistence way of life.
The people of Bristol Bay rely on that watershed for their fish, culture and way of life–and have for millennia. Pebble has held these Alaskans hostage for over ten years. Though Pebble has not yet produced its promised permit application, the threat to the region that nourishes the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world has forced local residents to invest in a fight they cannot afford to lose.
Yet they persist in their fight and have committed to it for the long haul. Over the last decade, we have represented Bristol Bay clients in this fight. When the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) continued to issue permits without a proper public process, we won in court. When Pebble harassed mine opponents by using subpoenas to demand private communications, we won in court.
Fighting for the long haul
Companies like Pebble know they must–and do–invest for the long game, because that’s how they erode resistance. They buy support. They make promises. They divide communities. They invest in public relations campaigns to win investors and influencers.
When local people say “no,” companies do everything money can buy to make it sound like “yes.” That’s why Trustees is in it for the long haul, too. We know the value of persistence, resistance and resilience.
Just last month, we got the good news that the coal company seeking a mining permit in the Chuitna River watershed across Cook Inlet from Anchorage walked away from the project. The company did not say why it suspended its permitting efforts, but we believe it had to do with American communities making energy choices that look beyond coal; and with the fierce local and Alaska opposition to the strip mine, which would have devastated streams and salmon that sustain subsistence, commercial and sports fisheries in the area.
It’s important to note that this Chuitna project was round two for Trustees. The project was first proposed in the 1980s. We challenged that permit because it failed to include major parts of the mine in its scope, and we won in court in 1992. A new coalition emerged to fight when PacRim renewed its interest in the mine in 2006. We just won that fight too.
Speak out against putting industry profits before people
Yes, speaking out makes a difference. Our voices matter at every rally and protest, in every letter to Congress, through every public process. Exercising our voices to protect our rights and ensure a healthy environment matters now and will matter over the long arc of history.
Outside companies see big dollar signs in Alaska, but Alaska is our home. And we’re not going anywhere. Trustees is here for the long haul and will protect our home for as long as it takes.
PS: Your support of Trustees for Alaska is critical now more than ever.
How did a foreign mining conglomerate use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cut back scientifically supported protections for Alaska salmon?
The people of Bristol Bay spend a lot of time outside–on the river fishing for white fish and salmon, and in the wilderness hunting an gathering food–but they know a PR sham when they see one.
Jordan Schoonover interned with Trustees in 2012. Where is she now and how did she get there?