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Begich comes out in opposition of Pebble Mine development

January 24th, 2014 | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article  

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich said publicly this week that after review of the EPA's final draft of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, he now opposes development of the proposed Pebble Mine.

""I have long been a strong supporter of Alaska's mining industry and believe we must do all we can to support resource development industries that provide family wage jobs for Alaskans and keep our economy strong," Begich said in a release. "But years of scientific study has proven the proposed Pebble Mine cannot be developed safely in the Bristol Bay watershed. As the multi-year watershed assessment details, the mine would likely threaten the largest and most lucrative salmon run in the world. Bristol Bay produces half the world's red salmon and supports thousands of fishing jobs and way of life for thousands of Alaskans. Thousands of Alaskans have weighed in on this issue and I have listened to their concerns. Pebble is not worth the risk.

After three years of study, the EPA last week released the final draft of its long-awaited Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, prompting a new round of applause from opponents of the proposed Pebble mine, and criticism from those who say the federal agency is overstepping its bounds.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, however, maintained her position that the state, not the federal government, should make the call on development of state lands. Murkowski told the Anchorage Daily News on Monday that the EPA seems to be moving in the direction of taking a step toward regulatory action. EPA officials said during a press conference following the assessment's release that its next step was answering to tribes, which have repeatedly asked the agency to use its powers to restrict large-scale mining activity in the region. Rep. Don Young has long been an outspoken critic of the EPA's action in the Bristol Bay region.

The region's tribes, along with environmental supporters, were quick to support Begich's action, however, applauding his stance.

"Senator Begich is standing up for Bristol Bay's federally recognized tribes," said Robert Heyano, Chairman of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, in a statement. "He has our thanks and praise for opposing projects like Pebble that threaten the subsistence resources our communities have depended on since time immemorial. He has taken the time and listened to the concerns of Bristol Bay's residents and carefully reviewed EPA's extensive scientific report in coming to this critical decision—something no other member of our congressional delegation has done. In opposing a project like Pebble, Sen. Begich is standing up for Alaskan jobs and protecting a way of life for Alaska Natives."

The Bristol Bay Native Corporation President and CEO Jason Metrokin offered similar support for the senator, noting that he has reached the same conclusion as the majority of Alaskans, and the scientific community.

"We look forward to working with the Senator to ensure appropriate protections for Bristol Bay," Metrokin said in a statement.

The Pebble Partnership issued a statement in response to Begich's stance, saying it was disappointed that Begich came out against the Pebble Project.

"We are disappointed that Senator Begich has come out against thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions in state revenue, and potentially billions in economic activity for Alaska," the statement said. "We also are stunned that an Alaskan senator supports the EPA—a federal agency acting unilaterally—to make decisions about future development on state land in Alaska."

Begich noted that his position was not anti-development, and that his opposition of the Pebble Project was precidented by other Alaska leaders such as Sen. Ted Stevens and former governors Jay Hammond and Tony Knowles.


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