Dillingham to Murkowski: No Pebble Mine
Following a day's worth of what were described as friendly and productive private meetings around town, Sen. Lisa Murkowski encountered a much chillier crowd at a town hall meeting last Thursday night in Dillingham.
To the full house packed inside the elementary school gym, Murkowski quipped, "Well I can see there's either nothing going on around town, or there's nothing more important."
For most of the more than 200 in attendance, the latter was true. They had come to tell Murkowski, "whose name we learned to spell four years ago," of their great concerns with Senate Bill 2156, which she co-sponsored. That bill, also known as the Regulatory Fairness Act of 2014, would "weaken the Clean Water Act," said Tom Tilden, a chief with the Curyung tribe.
"I plead with you to change your mind about cosponsoring this bill," he said over the crowd's applause. "Don't let your name be on that!"
The Regulatory Fairness Act of 2014 is sponsored by Louisiana Senator David Vitter, a Republican, and Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat. Murkowski said Manchin's involvement was based on the EPA's "retroactive" veto of the Section 404 permits needed for the Spruce No. 1 coal mine in Logan County, West Virginia in 2011. That veto came four years after the permit was issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and has been upheld through several legal challenges.
The EPA's retroactive veto of Spruce has been watched closely as a test case for the agency's preemptive involvement with the Pebble Mine. Murkowski told the crowd Thursday that she had assurances from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that the bill would not remove the EPA's veto authority of dredge and fill permits under the Clean Water Act. But, if passed, the bill would likely block any agency action before a company has filed permit applications with the US Army Corps of Engineers.
"This bill is not designed to influence Pebble," said Murkowski, as she praised the Clean Water Act and offered a very cautious defense of letting Pebble apply for their permits.
"The only way to get the certainty that you're all looking for," she said, "is to let this process play itself out. Otherwise you can count on many years of lawsuits, appeals, and so on."
Seventy-five people signed up to speak or ask a question. The overwhelming majority of those who were afforded the opportunity to do so used their time to tell Murkowski about the problems the Pebble Mine poses to the Bristol Bay region. Representatives from Trout Unlimited and the Renewable Resources Coalition, both leading organizations in the fight against Pebble flew into town for the event. Many in the crowd wore matching shirts and held signs to drive home the point.
Murkowski was warm in her responses, and several praised "cousin Lisa" for her courage to face the tough crowd. But her empathy, and constant reminders that she has "never taken a position in support of Pebble" only carried so far, and eventually fell flat with those eager for an end to the fight.
"What I get from this, what I'm hearing her say, is that these people, and this region, aren't worth as much as a bunch of shiny shit in the ground," said one fisherman from Seattle as the meeting let out.