Earlier this month, when the Inspector General of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency *("EPA") issued the results of an independent investigation undertaken at the urging of The Pebble Partnership ("Pebble") -- the beleaguered mining partnership behind the massive Pebble Mine proposed in southwest Alaska - the company responded angrily. Disappointed by the unambiguous rejection of his company's charges of EPA misconduct, Pebble's CEO Tom Collier immediately condemned the investigation he'd requested as "an embarrassing failure . . ." and a "whitewash" -- "the single most embarrassing piece of work by an inspector general that I have seen in my 40 years of working with inspector generals."
Protesting too much? Perhaps what Mr. Collier really meant was that his company was embarrassed - not the Inspector General -- by the outcome of an investigation that he himself had requested and even cited as confirmation of foul play at the EPA. Or perhaps his rage of hyperbole was merely the product of his having just been stung by the old adage, "be careful what you wish for."
Maybe, but I think there's more to it.
In fact, Collier's outburst is only the latest illustration of a pattern at Pebble - an illustration of how, in Pebble's self-focused worldview, the meaning of everyday language gets distorted, defined not by clear-eyed reality but through a lens of support or opposition to its reckless mining scheme. Objective truth - what facts and commonly-used words mean to the rest of us - is beside the point; Pebble's truth depends fundamentally on whether a person, action, or event is good or bad for its interest in the Pebble Mine.
Thus, an investigation repeatedly requested by Pebble becomes an "embarrassment" and a "whitewash" by virtue not of its execution but of its outcome - not how it was conducted, by whom, for what reason, or at whose urging, but because the requested investigation ultimately reached a conclusion contrary to Pebble's. What is manifestly an "embarrassment" for Pebble (and for its CEO Collier) gets transformed, in Collier's statements to the media, into an "embarrassment" for the Inspector General.
In the same way, by Pebble's definition, a truly "independent" investigation is one whose findings confirm Pebble's own view, not whether it is in fact, by common understanding, "free from outside control or support." For example, Pebble is quick to cite as a model of independence the recent review by former Defense Secretary (now lobbyist) William Cohen and his team of DC consultants and lawyers, never mind that the review was initiated and paid for by Pebble itself. Never mind that Pebble was the client.
But, according to Pebble's own in-house "Dictionary of Deception" - were it to compile one -- an "independent" investigation means an investigation paid for by Pebble that confirms its own position.
Listed below, in no particular order, are some other possible entries, derived from its persistent penchant for re-purposing common English words to promote the Pebble Mine:
- "Forever" (referring to the estimated lifetime of the massive earthen dams that Pebble predicts, with modern engineering techniques, can safely contain an estimated 10 billion tons of contaminated waste) means 17 years, which is the time to failure of the containment dam last year at Canada's Mt. Polley copper mine - designed by the same company hired to design Pebble's containment.
- "The Pebble Partnership" means one small Canadian exploration company called Northern Dynasty Minerals, after the withdrawal of Mitsubishi Corporation, Rio Tinto, and Anglo American. (Just last week, CIBC World Markets sold is 19,100 shares of Northern Dynasty stock, becoming the latest investor to divest.)
- "Alaskan self-determination" means determined by foreign mining interests and their Washington, D.C. lawyers, and lobbyists for hire.
- "Sound economic investment" means a financial interest in the 100 percent owner of the Pebble Mine project - Northern Dynasty -- whose share value has fallen steadily from over $21.00 a share in February 2011 to 22 cents a share in January 2016.
- "Economic opportunity for Bristol Bay" means economic opportunity for Pebble and its shareholders, based on a project that would threaten a wild salmon fishery that currently generates $1.5 billion in annual revenue and 14,000 full and part-time jobs in the region.
- "Supported by the people who live there" means over 80 percent opposition among the residents of the Bristol Bay region (including 95 percent of commercial fishermen and 81 percent of native shareholders in the Bristol Bay Native Corporation).
- "Imminent permit application" means over a decade of promises that a permit application would be (but wasn't) filed - that is, "never mind."
- "Bristol Bay Forever Initiative," approved by 65% of Alaska voters in November 2014 to protect wild salmon in the Bristol Bay region -- and upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court in January 2015 -- means a violation of Pebble's legal and constitutional rights.
- "No mine plan" means please ignore the 2,000 page Pebble Mine plan and water rights application submitted in 2006 to the State of Alaska by Northern Dynasty (or the prospectus filed in 2011 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission).
- "Co-existence with a healthy salmon ecosystem," as the Bristol Bay watershed is globally known based on its annual runs of 25 to 50 million wild salmon, means building a massive open pit copper and gold mine, generating an estimated 10 billion tons of contaminated waste, to be contained behind five earthen dams forever, all in the headwaters of the world's greatest wild salmon fishery (even though exposure to copper is toxic to salmon at levels of 2 to 3 ppb over background levels).
- "No adverse impact from exploratory drilling" means no cleanup by Pebble of the over 1,000 exploratory holes at the proposed Pebble Mine site.
- "United States environmental law" means the list of federal laws protecting the rights of foreign mining interests to develop a massive open pit mine that threaten the salmon, water, and wildlife resources of Bristol Bay - and the communities that depend on them.
- "Due process of law" means claiming a legal right to an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act as a pretext to stop EPA from exercising its independent regulatory authority under section 404(c) of the federal Clean Water Act.
- "EPA's black box process" means EPA's four-year, twice peer-reviewed scientific assessment of impacts of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed, with dozens of public meetings, repeated opportunities for public comment, and over one million public comments received.
- "EPA veto" means EPA's proposal to restrict the scale of the Pebble Mine (allowing the company, if it chooses, to apply for a permit to build a mine that is smaller in size and lower in risk).
- "Collusion with EPA" means citizens lawfully exercising their constitutional right to petition the government, including meeting with (and providing evidence to) government officials.
- "Incontrovertible evidence of collusion and predetermination by EPA" means evidence unequivocally controverted earlier this month by the Inspector General in a report exonerating EPA of all charges, based on its year and a half investigation initiated at the urging of Pebble itself.
- "Bad option for the company" means the good judgment to walk away from the Pebble Mine.
The list could go on - and, as Pebble prolongs its delusional pursuit of the Pebble Mine, it undoubtedly will. As long as the company is prepared to devote what remains of its dwindling assets to hiring DC lawyers and lobbyists like Pebble CEO Tom Collier -- willing and eager to sell their services to fight the people, tribes, and communities of Bristol Bay - the battle to prevent the destruction of this exceptional region will continue.
The truth is that "walking away" from Bristol Bay is the only option for Northern Dynasty and its "Pebble Partnership." Act now to send that message - and stop the Pebble Mine.
Photo cred: Robert Glenn Ketchum