U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has come out against the Pebble Mine. In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Begich described it as “Wrong mine, wrong place, too big,” with “Too many potential long-term impacts to a fishery that is pretty critical to that area but also to Alaska, to world markets.”
Begich has been slow coming to this position. The mine has been a hot button issue since 2006, and was a campaign issue when he was elected in 2008. Ted Stevens, who he beat, had come out against the mine in 2007.
The mammoth mine would be on state lands, and the state has long tried to get the feds to stay out of the project. However, the EPA intervened and recently released a report that said that the mine would destroy up to 94 miles of streams, including five to 22 miles of salmon spawning streams, and 5,350 acres of wetlands.
The mine, in Western Alaska, is estimated to produce 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum.
The report was the likely precursor to federal intervention under the Clean Water Act. Such intervention has been strongly opposed by the state’s Republican leadership along with the two Republican members of the federal delegation.
Begich is in a competitive race to keep his seat. Although polls have shown that a majority of Alaskans oppose Pebble Mine, all of Begich’s Republican opponents—Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, Joe Miller, and former DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan—have come out in opposition to federal intervention in the project.
It’s unclear what effect this will have on Begich’s support among avid pro-development Alaskans. But it’s unlikely that many of those would have his vote anyway.
It’s also unclear what his support, or lack thereof, will have on the project. The mine’s largest stakeholder, Anglo American pulled out of the project late last year. The other large investor, Rio Tinto, is considering pulling out. Too, an initiative has been qualified for the Aug. 19 primary election ballot to create a fisheries preserve in Bristol Bay. If it passes, it will effectively ban large-scale mining in the area.
What we do know is that Begich is a careful and cautious politician. As such, the move has likely come as a result of the growing Alaskan opposition to the project.
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