North of 60 Mining News - The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

Pebble Partnership copper gold molybdenum mine project Alaska Northern Dynasty NAK NDM

By J. P. Tangen
For Mining News 

Actor takes a stand against Alaskans

In opposing Pebble, Robert Redford argues against both the environment and the hope of prosperity for Alaska's Native people


Last updated 4/24/2011 at Noon

It is not extraordinary for film stars to use their recognized names and faces for purposes unrelated to their professions and to endorse something they arguably know nothing about. In America where we all treasure free speech, celebrities have as much right as anyone to attempt to influence public opinion.

When it becomes noteworthy, however, is when someone publicly argues against the very position they purport to be advocating. This is the case with a proposed New York Times Earth Day ad featuring Robert Redford opposing the Pebble Project.

The text of the proposed ad seems to imply that there is no need for copper in our society. Apparently, in his world, no plumbing, no electricity, no hybrid cars, no computers, not even any anti-arthritis health bracelets are desirable. We are not sure how he is going to ward off the invaders from outer-space without such bracelets.

As is frequently the case, proponents of "environmental protection" slur the facts and totally disregard the people who are impacted the most by their opposition. In this case, the actor seems to totally disregard several critical elements on the discussion. He condemns mining across the board - the holes in the earth are too big; the risk of earthquakes is too severe; the environmental mess that has been associated with mines is too ugly; the fish might die; the local people won't like it. All of these points are simply misleading, of course, if not dead wrong.

As for the hole in the ground, it will only be big enough to extract the mineralized ore - mining companies are not in the business of wasting money, and digging holes in the ground is expensive. As far as the aesthetics are concerned, apparently the concept of reclamation is beyond Redford's ken. Not only is mining a transient use of an area, but reclamation is mandatory and in the case of mines in the United States clean-up must be totally bonded from the outset. In other words, not only will there be no permanent mess to worry about, the situs of the operation will be so far from any human habitation that people will have a hard time seeing the impact, except on Google Earth.

Earthquakes in Alaska are as common as pebbles on the beach. When they happen in populated areas, they get some publicity; but when massive earthquakes occur in remote locations, they rarely make much news, even in Alaska. For instance, everyone has heard of the 1964 earthquake that rattled Anchorage, but almost no one outside Alaska knows about the earthquake that occurred along the Denali fault on November 2002. It wasn't quite as big as the 1964 earthquake or the recent earthquake in Japan, but it was bigger than the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti and New Zealand. In other words, earthquake damage is a function of population density as much as any other factor.

The Pebble Project may install large earthen dams to impound tailings, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will fail; nor does it mean that in the case of failure it will adversely impact a fishery that is hundreds of miles away, assuming that there was a clear downstream connection between the impoundment and the fishery.

A small percentage of the impounded material behind any such dams would be "toxic" by definition, perhaps; but that does not mean it would be deadly to fish in any sense, any more than the "toxic" compounds that are found in tap water are deadly to the people that drink it.

Catching and freezing salmon is a whole lot more dangerous to them than the Pebble project would ever be under any circumstances.

It is the alleged adverse impact of the Pebble Project on the people of Southwest Alaska, however, that makes this misguided ad so tragic and sad. Like all modern mines in the United States, any mine in this area would be more heavily regulated than it would be in any other country on the face of the earth. Those who argue for more stringent government regulation have worked their will on the domestic mining industry for a generation, with palpable results.

Locating a mine in Alaska is an ideal scenario because few people actually ever get off the highway system here, so the number of individuals who would ever see such a project up close and personal would be a tiny faction of the number of people in the world, the country or even the state. The aesthetic insult to even the most sensitive person would be miniscule.

But there are the jobs.

Southwest Alaska is the poorest region of Alaska.

The only industry there is seasonal fishing, and most of the money from fishing winds up not in the hands of the local people but in the hands of the Seattle-based fish processors 2,000 miles away.

Mining in Southwest Alaska would mean hundreds of high-paying direct jobs, and hundreds more indirect support jobs.

Such earnings would be spent on houses and plumbing and schools and churches and museums and libraries and even movie theaters.

The people who live there would not have to worry about their sons and daughters leaving Newhalen and Nondalton for Anchorage to find economic opportunity.

The mines in Alaska have an excellent track record of training local hires and the Pebble Project would be no exception.

The Pebble Project, like the Red Dog Mine before it, would miraculously change the face of remote Alaska, from a starving, remote, suicide-ridden backwater to a thriving community that enjoys the benefits of two great industries.

I am sure that Mr. Redford knows all of these things. Why he chooses to turn his back on the people of our state is not clear. Certainly he has the right to do so, because free speech is our custom and our law. It is just sad to see a man of his prominence take such a backward and negative position.


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