An Alaska mining proposal that hasn't even gotten off the drawing board is inspiring a ferocious lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill.
Both sides in the Pebble Mine fight have brought in the big guns. The companies backing the proposal have spent 10 years and more than $2 million lobbying for it, with former House Speaker Bob Livingston serving as one of the lobbyists, while opponents have coordinated around 100 visits to lawmakers from Native Alaskan children, commercial fishermen and so-called hook and bullet big-money Republicans.
This spring, the anti-Pebble crowd picked up the consulting services of recent White House alumnus Tommy Vietor, who had worked for President Barack Obama since his days in the Senate.
The focus of this fervor is buried near the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers, where massive deposits of gold, copper and molybdenum lie in a watershed that feeds into Bristol Bay. The Pebble Partnership, which owns the land, wants to dig an open-pit mine that could stretch for miles and would need roads, a power plant and a port.
The partnership is a 50-50 conglomerate of Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals and British-owned Anglo American. Its opponents include native tribes, environmental groups and, perhaps most vocally, commercial fishermen who say the mine would devastate the world's largest wild salmon fishery.
Also weighing in is the Environmental Protection Agency, which took the unusual step of launching a scientific assessment of the potential effects of large-scale mining on the watershed. After a round of public comment and peer review, the agency released a new draft watershed assessment in April that bolstered the opponents' warnings about wiped-out fish populations and fouled wetlands — even though the partnership hasn't yet applied for a permit. Opponents also want EPA to pre-emptively veto an Army Corps of Engineers permit for the mine.
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