Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Editorial: Give Pebble talk a chance

Attendees of a meeting explaining a stakeholder dialogue process about Pebble Mine were skeptical that the purpose really is to have input into determining the best mining alternative for the Bristol Bay watershed — up to and including no mine and all.

With good reason. It’s difficult to believe “no mine” is an option when the proposed mine’s owner, Northern Dynasty Minerals, is paying for the dialogue process.

Mine opponents don’t want to discuss how it might be possible to build an economically productive and environmentally sensitive mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

They’re sure beyond all doubt it’s not possible. They know there has never been a mine of the type proposed for Pebble that hasn’t contaminated the environment, and that the mine’s developers have a poor track record with mining projects around the world. They know how vitally important Bristol Bay salmon runs are, and how impossible it would be to protect them from effects of Pebble.

They want to shout their message loud and clear, not sit through a dialogue of “what ifs” and “maybes.”

The problem is, an increase in volume doesn’t necessarily mean more people will listen. Polls after the Clean Water Initiative failed in August’s primary election showed a sizable chunk of people don’t believe Pebble is as large a risk as opponents say it is, or don’t believe the information that’s come out on either side.

That’s why even Pebble opponents should participate in the dialogue process.

If opponents are correct that this is all a sham to generate good PR for the Pebble Partnership — and they could well be right, since there’s no guarantee mine developers will listen to, much less include, anything that comes out of this process — then so be it. It’s still worth participating.

If opponents don’t join in, that makes good PR for Pebble, as well — here they are extending an olive branch, and their detractors won’t take it.

The dialogue’s coordinator has offered to have people sign a statement saying their participation in the dialogue process does not mean they support the mine. The Keystone Center that’s facilitating the process has a good reputation for independent, unbiased work. Center representatives say they’ll stand up to Pebble if mine backers try to play off the opposition’s participation in the process as meaning environmentalists support the mine.

And if Keystone’s Todd Bryan is right that the mine may be permitted no matter what the opposition says or does, having a seat at the table could give opponents a chance to help design the best mine possible. Granted, to them, no mine is the best mine, but if there’s unavoidably going to be one, why not try to make it the least damaging option?

Most importantly, mine opponents stand to gain an audience for their message if they participate in the process. They can make sure their side is represented, and the information showing Pebble’s danger isn’t ignored.

The Pebble Partnership sees the Keystone process as a tool to help convince the public to allow the mine. Opposition groups should view the Keystone process as a similarly powerful tool bent in the opposite direction.

No comments: