Alaska’s Senator Murkowski not taking a stand (yet) on contested Pebble Mine

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2019. Murkowski has yet to make a declaration for or against the Pebble Mine, a contested project in Alaska. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
Opponents of the Pebble Mine, in Alaska, are doing all they can to get Sen. Lisa Murkowski on their side. But Murkowski is not ready to make a declaration about the mine, for or against.

Publicly, Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young are all on the same page on Pebble: they’re not taking a stand on the mine. They say they want the Corps of Engineers’ environmental review to advance, with decisions based on objective criteria.

But Bristol Bay fishermen and others who oppose the mine see Murkowski as their beacon of hope. Cook Inlet Keeper spokesman Brandon Hill said Pebble opponents are directing their energies at Murkowski because they suspect, deep down, she’s with them. He said they don’t feel that way about Sullivan.

“So instead of wasting a lot of our time hoping that he might change his mind, we just don’t expect he will. And Lisa seems like she’s going to be the person at the top that really helps move this train. If at all,” Hill said. “But we need her to… speak up.”

Workers with the Pebble Mine project test drill in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, near the village of Iliamma, in July 2007. (Al Grillo/AP)

Pebble opponents are taking every opportunity to make their appeal to her. Last week, Murkowski posted a feel-good message on Facebook, about her resolution to recognize this as the international year of the salmon. The post garnered more than a hundred comments, most urging her to support salmon by opposing Pebble.

Hill worries mine opponents could come on too strong and alienate Murkowski. He says he knows that she’s deliberate and carefully weighs important decisions.

“But gosh there just comes a time when being a leader also means recognizing that something’s unjust and changing it and being bold, you know?” Hill said. “And I think that’s what we’re asking Lisa to do, is ‘be bold and stand with us. Like, it’s time.’”

For Murkowski, though, it’s not time. She said she’s advocated for a robust permitting process.

But what about weighing in on the mine?

Murkowski said she wants to read the draft environmental impact statement, the scientific analysis, the criticism of “the science that’s out there, and not out there,” and all the comments.

“And so that is the next step in this evaluation that, as an Alaskan, I think I should be taking,” she said.

And after taking all that into consideration, she’ll weigh in?

“There will be that point where I think that is appropriate,” she said.

Pebble is especially unpopular in coastal fishing towns, but some residents in communities near where the mine would be are in favor of it. They say the region can’t rely solely on salmon and desperately needs another industry.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada’s northern territories among world’s most attractive mining regions for investors, survey says, CBC News

Finland: Gold mine in southern Finland to shut down after court denies appeal, Yle News

Norway: Minister downplays environmental impact of planned mine in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Finnish company joins mining project in Russian High Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Iron mine in northern Sweden to restart production, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Mining opponents ask for investigation into Pebble’s parent company, Alaska Public Media

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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