For the first time Pebble Mine will have a hearing on Capitol Hill

9177798_mFor eight years, even the idea of the Pebble Mine, that humongous gold and copper deposit in Southwest Alaska that sits on the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon run, has fueled heated arguments. More recently, as the companies involved make the slow, steady march toward permitting, the controversy has morphed into an out-and-out brawl, one that’s pitted, villager against villager, family member against family member, Alaskan against Alaskan.

For all the brouhaha that it’s created in Alaska, the fight has managed to largely remain in-state. Some national groups have gotten involved, but given the scope, the size and the potential ramifications, it’s been relatively silent on the national scene.

That, however, appears about to change.

“The decibel level is rising,” Peter Robertson, senior vice president for corporate affairs with the Pebble Partnership, told the D.C. based The Hill. Indeed, and it’s going to get louder.

The final draft of the EPA’s Bristol Bay’s watershed assessment is expected to be released this fall. In earlier drafts, the EPA has said the mine could wipe out as many as 90 miles of streams and alter stream flows. The agency is unlikely to change its mind about that.

So a trove of Pebble lobbyists are hard at work, trying to buffer the outcome. Even the usually reticent Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively took to Washington D.C. with a bang. In early June, he spent four days on Capitol Hill, meeting with members of Congress, including Rep. Don Young.

That lobbying effort has proved fruitful. On Thursday, the Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on Oversight will take on the proposed Pebble Mine. It’s the first time that Congress has taken the issue up.

The hearing has been called a “factual review of a hypothetical scenario,” and is chaired by Republican Rep. Paul Broun, who has already let his views on the assessment be known. In March, Broun wrote to EPA chief administrator Lisa Jackson about the assessment.

“Unfortunately, it appears as though EPA is happy to continue spending scarce resources on an assessment of questionable value all in order to create additional, unnecessary, and duplicative regulatory burdens,” he wrote.

Broun is from Georgia. He’s one of the most conservative members in the House. He proposed making 2010 the “year of the bible.” He’s been married four times. He calls global warming a “hoax.” Last year, he told a church group that theories of evolution and the big bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell.”

Broun also believes that the world is less than 9000 years old and was created in six literal days.

And, most importantly for Pebble, he’s running for U.S. Senate and wants to abolish the EPA.

Four witnesses will testify at the hearing, three whom are considered “pro-Pebble,” by those who label people such things. The other witness is a former EPA administrator.

It’s unlikely that fair-minded people will take much away from such a heavily stacked hearing. But, more are going to follow, and as many Alaskans will tell you, and as many in the country will soon understand, fair minded, when it comes to Pebble, is relative.

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