New Poll: Majority of Americans Oppose Construction of Alaskan Mega-Mine

Protecting salmon, and the jobs, people and wildlife that depend on it, are the leading causes for opposition

LOS ANGELES (December 6, 2011) – Residents in Alaska and the lower 48 states solidly oppose the Pebble Mine project proposed in Bristol Bay, Alaska and would like to see the project abandoned, according to new polling results released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Nunamta Aulukestai, and Renewable Resources Coalition.

This poll follows the recent release of a Bristol Bay Native Corporation poll conducted in Alaska which confirmed the overwhelming opposition within the Bristol Bay region to the proposal to open a vast pit and deep underground mine in the remote water-laden tundra between Lake Clark National Park and Lake Iliamna, the largest fresh water body in Alaska and source of the salmon-rich Kvichak River. 

“As we approach the holiday season, we are thankful that our Lower 48 neighbors stand with us to oppose the Pebble project,” said Kimberly Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai, a non-profit whose members represent nine Alaska Native Village Corporations from the Bristol Bay region. “For the majority of people who live in Bristol Bay, this poll reflects that we, Americans, use common sense every day, and it is a no brainer to us that salmon habitat is more precious than gold or copper.”

As reflected in a poll conducted by Belden Russonello Strategists, LLC, Americans throughout the Lower 48 states join the overwhelming majority of Bristol Bay residents, natives and commercial fishermen in opposing the Pebble Mine. Results reveal that Americans strongly support salmon protection and view the Bristol Bay ecosystem as warranting protection. Alaska residents are particularly concerned about the likely devastating effects any mining activity will have on the region’s primary industry—its wild salmon fisheries.  The poll also found solid support for EPA to stop Pebble Mine if studies show that it will pollute.

 “These compelling results are extraordinary in the consistency and depth of opposition to the Pebble Mine,” said Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of NRDC’s Save Bristol Bay Campaign.  “Pebble Mine is a devastating project widely opposed throughout the Bristol Bay region, but this is the first polling that has sought to determine how the project is seen nationally. And the opposition is overwhelming.”

Some of the poll’s notable findings include:

  • Opposition to Pebble Mine, both in Alaska and nation-wide, is consistently strong, and the level of opposition actually increases as people learn more about the mine. After hearing statements both for and against the mine, 77% of respondents in the lower 48 and 68% of Alaskans oppose Pebble Mine and 55% in both regions strongly oppose the mine. The opposition crosses ideological, political, gender, and age group lines.
  • Support for EPA to stop the mine is strong. The majority in the lower 48 (59%) and in Alaska (54%) believe that EPA should stop Pebble Mine if studies show it will pollute the land and water. 
  • Salmon is a strong reason to oppose Pebble Mine, both in the lower 48 and in Alaska – but particularly in Alaska. Concerns regarding the 10 billion tons of waste the mine will produce were also significant reasons for opposition.
  • The opposition is weighted heavily toward “strongly opposed” as opposed to “somewhat opposed.”  This means that the opposition is highly unlikely to change their opinion.

 “This is the first time native Alaskans, commercial and sport fishing industries have joined forces to fight for the fate of our wild salmon,” said Anders Gustafson, executive director of Renewable Resources Coalition. “The Pebble Mine threatens the renewable resources our livelihoods and cultures rely on and it has spurred opposition from a wide spectrum of political views and cultural backgrounds. We are happy to see growing opposition in the rest of the country as more people become familiar with this high-risk mining venture being proposed in the heart of the Bristol Bay Fishery Reserve.”

Despite vehement opposition from a broad coalition led by Alaskan native communities and fishermen, foreign mining interests--led by Anglo American, Rio Tinto, and Northern Dynasty--are in the process of planning one of North America’s largest gold mines at Pebble, which would also produce copper and molybdenum. Anglo American Chief Executive Cynthia Carroll had promised the company would not build without local support.

The Pebble Mine would create a two-mile wide open pit mine, thousands of feet deep, at the ecologically sensitive headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed. More than 10 billion tons of mining waste would be produced and stored in man-made ponds, held behind giant earthen dams in an active earthquake zone.

Both the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers and the salmon industry they support could be affected by the proposed Pebble Mine operations. These two Bay tributaries are home to some of the world’s largest sockeye and king salmon runs. Salmon is one of southwestern Alaska’s most valuable renewable resources, supporting one of only two freshwater harbor seal populations in the world, generating thousands of jobs and $450 million in revenue each year. The salmon also support a vast ecosystem, feeding grizzly bears, eagles, wolves, seals and whales.     

“At a time when we do not see Democrats and Republicans agreeing on much, especially on natural resource issues, these results caught us by surprise,” said John Russonello, who directed the survey at BRS. “The fact that majorities from both parties as well as independents oppose the mine is remarkable and a strong indication that this particular project is just plain unpopular.”

The BRS survey announced today had a sample size of 600 American adults in the continental U.S. and 201 telephone interviews (using landlines and cell phones) among a representative sample of Alaskan adults with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percent for the national study and 6.9 percent in Alaska. It was conducted via telephone from August 18 to 25 by Belden Russonello Strategists, LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based firm specializing in opinion research and strategic communication.


A separate survey released last month by the Bristol Bay Native Corporation found that 81% of its Native shareholders strongly oppose Pebble Mine, a 12-percentage point increase in shareholder opposition since 2007.  Polling data released last August by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association found that 85% of commercial fishermen oppose Pebble Mine, including 80% who oppose it strongly.  Residents of the southwest Alaska Lake and Peninsula Borough also recently voted to prohibit the mine’s development if it would destroy or degrade salmon habitat.  Foreign mining interests are challenging that local initiative in Alaska state court.

Bristol Bay is an ecosystem surrounded by wild tundra, crisscrossed by swift rivers, and dotted with a spectacular array of national parks, wildlife refuges, the nation’s largest state park, and the largest freshwater lake in Alaska.