Pebble Mine: “One More Indicator That We Are Undoubtedly the Dumbest Species on the Planet”

Thomas Linzey

Residents in southwestern Alaska have been fighting the Pebble Mine for decades. In October, on behalf of the extractive industry, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resurrected the ecologically insane proposal.

Fun­ny how projects that would be holo­causts for Earth nev­er seem to stay dead.

Look no fur­ther than the pro­posed Peb­ble Mine in south­west­ern Alaska’s Bris­tol Bay. In 2002, after deposits of cop­per, gold, and molyb­de­num were con­firmed to the tune of $300 bil­lion, the dream of a huge open pit mine was born — with a pro­pos­al to remove 10 bil­lion tons of rock, cre­ate two arti­fi­cial lakes over four miles long, and con­struct a mine as deep as the Grand Canyon and as big as Manhattan.

Dur­ing the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion, Alaskans and oth­er groups suc­cess­ful­ly fought to get the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) to declare the area off-lim­its to min­ing under a rarely-used pro­vi­sion of the Clean Water Act. The agency even­tu­al­ly declared that the mine would result in the com­plete loss of fish habi­tat” due to the destruc­tion of 22 miles of streams and more than six square miles of wetlands.

But it only took an hour after a meet­ing between Pres­i­dent Trump’s EPA-head Scott Pruitt and the CEO of the Peb­ble Lim­it­ed Part­ner­ship for Pruitt to reverse that deter­mi­na­tion. His deci­sion now allows the per­mit appli­ca­tion process to move forward.

Prob­lem is, that part of Alas­ka is the last place in the world that a mine should be built. Fifty-six mil­lion sock­eye salmon call Bris­tol Bay home — mak­ing it one of the last, great salmon fish­eries on Earth. Near­ly half of the world’s sock­eye catch comes from this one region, sup­port­ing some 14,000 jobs, gen­er­at­ing about $480 mil­lion annu­al­ly, and feed­ing 4,000 year-old Alas­ka native communities.

Sock­eye salmon swim­ming in Alaska’s Bris­tol Bay. Note: their bod­ies only turn red when they reach their spawn­ing grounds. When in the ocean, sock­eye are a blue or sil­ver col­or. (Image: Ben Knight / earth​jus​tice​.org)

Of course, it’s not just the Peb­ble Mine pro­tec­tions that are here today and gone tomor­row. Whether it’s ura­ni­um min­ing in cen­tral Vir­ginia, coal ship­ping ter­mi­nals in Wash­ing­ton, or fed­er­al land pro­tec­tions in the West, ecosys­tems and nature are just polit­i­cal foot­balls; always one elec­tion away from being tram­pled to death.

Enough Already

We treat the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment with less legal pro­tec­tions than we treat our own right to car­ry firearms. And that is just one more indi­ca­tor that we are undoubt­ed­ly the dumb­est species on the plan­et. While our very lives depend on clean air, clean water, and the sus­te­nance pro­vid­ed by this plan­et, we con­tin­ue to treat Earth as some­thing that can be sold off to the high­est bid­der with­out consequence.

Enough already. The kind of change we need won’t come about because we raise con­scious­ness,” recy­cle more, take short­er show­ers or write more let­ters to Con­gress. We need a plain old rev­o­lu­tion that ele­vates nature and ecosys­tems to the high­est form of pro­tec­tion avail­able under our law — that of rights. And we need to give up hope that the fox­es in charge of the cur­rent hen­house will do any­thing to move in that direction.

Three dozen com­mu­ni­ties in the Unit­ed States, includ­ing the City of Pitts­burgh, have been lead­ing the way — adopt­ing local laws that rec­og­nize that ecosys­tems have rights to exist, flour­ish, regen­er­ate, and to be restored when dam­aged. Courts in India, Colom­bia, and Ecuador have held that rivers, glac­i­ers and oth­er ecosys­tems pos­sess inde­pen­dent­ly enforce­able rights of their own. At least two coun­tries have placed con­sti­tu­tion­al pro­tec­tions for nature direct­ly into their nation­al constitutions.

In the Unit­ed States, with the help of those who care about the riv­er, the Col­orado Riv­er ecosys­tem recent­ly sued the State of Col­orado for the gross malfea­sance of gov­er­nance that has almost killed off the River.

Bring It On

Rivers with a right to flow? Yes. Forests with the right to exist? Absolute­ly. Wet­lands with a right to do what wet­lands do? With­out a doubt. The cli­mate with a right to exist with­out fos­sil fuel emis­sions? Bring it on.

Let’s dance. And let the naysay­ers explain why it’s okay some­how to con­tin­ue to treat places like Bris­tol Bay as just anoth­er dump­ing ground. They’re the same idiots that defend­ed slav­ery, denied women the right to vote and stopped African-Amer­i­cans from vot­ing. They’re the same venal morons who brought us cor­po­rate rights,” what’s good for Gen­er­al Motors is good for Amer­i­ca,” and nuclear pow­er: too cheap to meter.” They’ll say any­thing to any­one to con­tin­ue to clutch at their avenues of wealth, con­trol and power.

If now isn’t the time to have that fun­da­men­tal bat­tle to remove their cold dead hands from our sus­tain­able future, then I think we’ve for­got­ten com­plete­ly what bat­tles are for.

Time to put our big boy pants on, and gid­dyup. Let’s go.

(Peb­ble Mine: Risen from the Dead” was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished on the Com­mu­ni­ty Envi­ron­men­tal Defense Fund’s (CELDF) web­site and is repost­ed on Rur­al Amer­i­ca In These Times with per­mis­sion. For more infor­ma­tion on the Rights of Nature move­ment, click here.)

A trail­er for We the Peo­ple 2.0” — the 2016 fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary about cor­po­rate pow­er in the Unit­ed States and the com­mu­ni­ty rights move­ment fight­ing against it. (Video: TreeTV / YouTube)
Thomas Linzey, a con­tribut­ing writer to Rur­al Amer­i­ca In These Times, is the exec­u­tive direc­tor and co-founder of the Com­mu­ni­ty Envi­ron­men­tal Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and serves as the organization’s chief legal counsel.
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