D. Dowd Muska


The Land of the Free, or a BANANA Republic?

July 11, 2013

The inside front cover of Orvis’s August catalog features Nantucket Reds, direct from Murray’s Toggery Shop. On page 84, the Top Gun Navy G-1 Jacket, the same garment “worn by America’s elite aviators,” is on the pricey side: $950. The Wrinkle-Free Gingham Sport Coat, page 43, is a winner. (Take it from a satisfied owner.)

Turn to the middle of the catalog, though, and you’ll find nothing for sale. In its place is some schmaltzy and dishonest agitprop. Up to $50,000, Orvis is matching, “dollar for dollar,” donations to “Trout Unlimited’s campaign against the Pebble Mine which threaten [sic] Alaska’s magnificent Bristol Bay Region.” The clothing and fly-fishing retailer avers that “common sense and history along with an inconceivable timeline of forever tells [sic] us the destruction of this resource is a foregone conclusion unless we stop Pebble Mine.”

Orvis customers might want to do a bit of research before grabbing their checkbooks. There’s no question that if given a green light, the Pebble Mine will be a billion-dollar, enormously complex, gargantuan undertaking. (The Pew Environment Group whines that it “is expected to be so massive that it would be visible from outer space.” Horrific to ecochondriacs, pretty amazing to the non-ninny cohort.) As is the case with any mega-facility, its construction and operation will pose a degree of risk to the environment. But the wealth it will extract will be of nearly unimaginable quantity.

The Mother of All Mother Lodes is located on state land, about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage. It’s not, as opponents regularly imply, near Bristol Bay, but 100 miles to the northeast. The nearest settlements -- Nondalton, Iliamna, and Newhalen -- are many miles away, and combined, have just 477 residents. In the entire U.S., only one county-equivalent jurisdiction has a lower population density than the Lake and Peninsula Borough.

The Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), a 50-50 collaboration between Northern Dynasty Minerals and Anglo American, has discovered immense quantities of copper and gold at the site. The latter alone would fetch $136 billion at current rates. Account for a century’s worth of digging -- and the other metals present, including silver, rhenium, palladium, and molybdenum -- and the claim’s value rises toward $1 trillion.

Still, the region’s rivers and streams flow toward the coast, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game notes that Bristol Bay is “the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world and the most valuable single salmon fishery” in the state. Hunters, hikers, and anglers frequent the area, too. If the project moves forward, stringent adherence to water, air, and wildlife protections will be necessary. As a Northern Dynasty executive matter-of-factly told The Wall Street Journal in 2007, “If we can’t prove this mine can work safely, we won’t get permits.”

In February 2012, after spending “seven years and US$150 million,” the PLP issued a voluminous survey. In “one of the most exhaustive environmental study programs in the history of US mineral development,” the company hired “more than 40 respected independent research firms, utilizing over 100 scientific experts and engineering groups, laboratories and support services,” and released its findings on the Internet.

As the Orvis catalog’s hysteria indicates, the PLP’s efforts have accomplished little. Politicians, professional environmental agitators, vacuous thespians, “native” entities, and commercial interests that feel threatened by the treasure trove are waging total war. The anti-Pebble coalition includes Barack Obama’s EPA, which in May 2012 issued the first draft of “An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska.” Predictably, the hastily compiled document warned that “at least one or more accidents or failures could occur, potentially resulting in immediate, severe impacts on salmon and detrimental, long-term impacts on salmon habitat.”

Alaska’ attorney general called the EPA’s assessment “unlawfully preemptive, premature, arbitrary, and capricious.” Why? To this day, PLP is in the exploration phase, and has not filed the paperwork needed to commence construction, much less operations. As the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner pondered, “How can the EPA determine that a proposal will have an ‘unacceptable adverse effect’ before it even receives an application describing the proposal?”

It’s a glorious time for the no-growth lobby. The Keystone XL Pipeline Project is stuck in neutral. Obstacles to “fracking” are being erected in non-red states. Expansions of natural-gas infrastructure face frequent opposition. And Alaska’s trillion-dollar bonanza may be abandoned before its developers initiate the process of regulatory review.

When BANANA -- Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything -- takes hold, a nation’s economy suffers. As well it should.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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