In this country, we do a lot of things based on precedence and tradition.

If there’s a long-standing tradition of lawsuits of a certain nature going a certain way based on judicial precedence, we can reasonably expect future lawsuits to go the same way unless they introduce a new element that is significant enough to change the paradigm and bring about a new precedent.

The precedent for mining in Alaska is that if you spend a lot of money on permitting and get far enough down the road to building your mine, the courts won’t stop you from building it — regardless of objection — because forcing you to pull out would create an unreasonable financial burden.

Before that stage, there’s no precedent for analysis. That’s what the EPA stepped in to create in Bristol Bay — a preliminary assessment of the region and what it can and cannot reasonably sustain.

The supporters of Pebble Mine have registered many complaints about the EPA’s stepping in before there was an official proposal for the open-pit mine. What they want is to have any oversight and objections held at bay until they file for their permits. But precedence is the reason a whole slate of Alaska citizens asked EPA to step in: They saw back-room deals being made that would put their homes and their livelihoods at risk.

In his editorial to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner this week, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program Manager Tim Bristol called Bristol Bay “Alaska’s most magnificent renewable salmon resource.”

I’ll go one further — it’s the world’s most magnificent salmon resource, by numbers alone.

I don’t imagine that no one will ever get a permit to take precious metals out of the soil at the headwaters of Bristol Bay. What I hope for is a delay long enough for our technological prowess to advance such that the byproduct of the extraction does not threaten the world’s most productive salmon streams.

We have seen in Alaska and elsewhere that industries with competing goals can operate in harmony. What we have not seen is a plan that makes this possible in Bristol Bay.

If Northern Dynasty wants to be evaluated on the merits of their plan, then let’s see their plan. It’s been about 10 years since they first laid their claim. Surely they have something to show for their work in that time.

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Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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