Today – Tuesday October 4, 2011 – is a big day in southwest Alaska. It marks the conclusion of voting on the Save Our Salmon (“SOS”) initiative being considered by the residents of the Lake and Peninsula Borough, where the massive Pebble Mine is proposed to be built. If approved, the initiative would ban large-scale resource extraction – like the Pebble Mine – that would destroy or degrade salmon habitat. Because voting is conducted by mail, the outcome won’t be known for a couple of weeks.
Whatever the outcome, the campaign has been a microcosm of the broader battle over the Pebble Mine – an embodiment of the tension between the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery and irresponsible large-scale mining. It has reflected the struggle between the economic needs of the people of the region and the reckless pursuit of corporate profits, between democratic self-determination by Bristol Bay residents and autocratic imperialism by a consortium of foreign mining companies. (Photo by Robert Glenn Ketchum)
But at its most basic the SOS campaign has reflected a conflict between telling the truth and telling lies – a familiar conflict in the controversy over Pebble Mine.
First, the initiative qualified overwhelmingly for the ballot based on a number of signatures that exceeded the entire number of votes in the last municipal election. Although Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll has given repeated assurances that they will not pursue the mine without broad local support, the Pebble Partnership’s immediate reaction to the initiative was to challenge it in court, seeking to remove it from the ballot. When the trial court rejected their demand, the Pebble Partners appealed all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court – only to be told once again that the people of the region are entitled to vote.
Second, since it couldn’t prevent the people from voting, the Pebble Partners funded a front group called Defend Your Rights (“DYR”) that only distorted the initiative’s contents. Instead of trying to explain why protecting salmon streams is a bad idea – admittedly a tough sell in a region dependent on salmon – DYR distributed a mailing whose focus is fear and propaganda, charging that the initiative “will drive Lake and Pen families away to find work, force schools to close and drive up the cost of food and fuel as the local economy shrinks even more.”
Never mind that the initiative would do none of that.
Never mind that the initiative is explicitly limited to large-scale resource extraction activities greater than 640 acres.
Never mind that, even then, the initiative prohibits only those extractions that threaten salmon habitat.
Third, ignoring the Pebble Partners' singular role in financing opposition to the initiative, that same DYR mailer personally attacked the initiative’s funder, Lake and Pen Borough resident Bob Gillam, claiming that Gillam “cares about one thing: his sport fishing,” that his sole purpose is “to protect his own private fishing playgrounds,” and that “he wants you to think he’s one of us.”
Never mind that the Pebble Partnership is made up of foreign corporations – hardly “one of us.”
Never mind that Gillam’s opposition to their mega-mine at Pebble is shared by over 80 percent of Bristol Bay residents.
Never mind that, through his heroic efforts, one thing has become unmistakably clear: that the more facts people learn about the Pebble Mine the more its opposition grows. To know Pebble is to oppose it.
If the SOS initiative passes, it will attest once again to the fact that the people of the Lake and Pen Borough support protecting wild salmon and their habitat. If the initiative fails, it will attest only to the undeniable power of lying – something that demagogues have understood all too well since the invention of propaganda centuries ago.