Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Those Curious Northern Types

On occasion I think of Alaska as more Canadian than American - a place in the frozen hinterlands where a socialist plan to redistribute oil money has been relatively successful, and where political clowns occasionally crop up to give us all a laugh (Palin, Stevens, etc.). Then they go and do something like this (via the Tribune):

Several Alaskans from the salmon-dependent Bristol Bay region toured Utah’s Bingham Canyon Mine on Monday for a look at the kind of tourist attraction they hope never to see back home.

They came with a village association, Nunamta Aulukestai, which represents Alaska Native corporations that oppose development of the massive Pebble mineral prospect on a remote and largely roadless mountain area southwest of Anchorage. The headwaters there feed spawning grounds that support commercial and sport fisheries valued at up to half a billion dollars a year...

[Tribal representative Karen] Williams fears Pebble, with an estimated 81 billion pounds of copper and significant gold and molybdenum deposits, could be just as large of an open-pit mine. Its placement, she said, threatens a way of life that includes subsistence fishing.

"Our kitchen is our salmon," she said, "and the caribou and the moose and the birds."

The Pebble Limited Partnership, a group of international mining corporations seeking to build the Alaska mine, disputes the threat to fisheries.

It goes to show that things are usually not entirely as they seem. While Alberta's Rio Tinto might be the Canadian Satan responsible for so much damage here locally, tribal associations in Alaska are smart enough to learn from our mitakes. They are especially smart to worry about fisheries and headwaters, given the damage to local water sources that a Bingham-style mine would do.

Williams, the spokeswoman quoted in the artifle, represens Nunamta Aulukestai, which represents tribal corporations opposed to open pit mining and other environmentally catastrophic development schemes. It goes to show that local, grass-roots organizations can be effective educators as well as sources of activism.

1 comment:

  1. I would venture that grass-roots organizations are most effective when educating. Even protesting is useless outside of the catharsis aspect unless you are convincingly communicating your protests to uninitiated non-choir members.

    On a related note, I've recently become enamored with Vermont's Act 250. The legislature passed the statute in 1970 to govern development in the state by way of a comprehensive land use permitting process, overseen by an independent permitting authority, the Natural Resources Board. For each permit the Board considers whether a proposed project will have any undue adverse impacts on a variety of criteria, including impact to water quality, natural resources, educational facilities, economic development, aesthetics, etc. It's fairly contentious, and it does have the effect of slowing development in the State, but at the same time if other states (ie, Alaska) were to adopt a similar strategy these battles could be fought in the public arena. Educating the public on the potential impacts of a gravel mining operation in an essential fish breeding habitat would be much easier if the project developers had the burden of proving to a certain evidentiary standard that opponents' concerns are baseless. Alaska has enough tribes that an Act 250 equivalent would probably include a criteria considering the impact to tribal lifeways and traditional lands. As always though getting something like that passed in other states would become a battle between foresight/responsibility/slower cash flow and unchecked capitalist development.

    By the way, Alaska is probably more American than many states in the "Lower 48." The attitude of most Alaskans toward exploitation and careless disregard of consequences puts them on par with many of the oil and coal states.