Posts Tagged ‘Wild sockeye salmon’

Mine, Baby, Mine!

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

First the polar bears. Then the beluga whales. Now this, from yesterday’s NY Times:

As governor, Ms. Palin has helped ease the way for a proposed copper and gold mine of near-mythic proportions at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, the world’s greatest spawning ground for wild salmon.

If state regulators give their approval, mining companies plan to carve an open pit that would rival the world’s largest mines, descending half a mile and taking as much energy to operate daily as the city of Anchorage …

Scientists and former state and federal biologists warn that toxic residue from the project, known as Pebble Mine, would irreparably harm a centuries-old salmon fishing industry that employs 17,000 and hauls in $100 million annually …

Ms. Palin has remained officially neutral, saying that the state will evaluate the project when it receives a formal permit application. But she has embraced resource extraction in ways that are likely to help Pebble. On the presidential campaign trail in coal country this month, she led supporters in chants of “Mine, baby, mine!”

Oh, and this:

Other moves by the Palin administration could also help Pebble. It plans to use a $7 million federal earmark — a practice she criticizes on the campaign trail — for a major upgrade of a road through the snow-capped Chigmit range, records show. There are no villages along this route, but it would form the first leg of a proposed 200-mile thoroughfare between Pebble Mine and the Pacific Ocean.

And, finally, this:

The environmental challenges to mining there are formidable.

“It is one giant wetland, and no one really understands how it works,” said Carol Ann Woody, a biologist who served on the Pebble advisory team for the United States Geological Survey and views the mine as a threat.

Rain falls in torrents, winter temperatures hit 50 below and a geologic fault — capable of producing catastrophic earthquakes — sits 30 miles away. The proposed mine could produce seven billion tons of toxic waste rock; even traces of copper can disable a salmon’s ability to navigate.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Palin, a hero of the far right, is such a rabid anti-environmentalist. What’s truly alarming, though, is the insidious nature of Palin’s assault. Consider that she said this, nearly two years ago, in the tiny village of Ekwok, Alaska:

“I am a commercial fisherman; my daughter’s name is Bristol,” said Ms. Palin, then a candidate for governor. “I could not support a project that risks one resource that we know is a given, and that is the world’s richest spawning grounds, over another resource.”

Verlyn Klinenborg put a fine point on Palin’s dangerous approach in an article in yesterday’s Times. He noted that Palin doesn’t argue against environmental protections; she argues, for instance, that it is “premature” to place beluga whales on the endangered species list. (See blog post: “Kill the Whales.”) He writes:

Palin can be a skillful politician. “Premature” is such a subtle, reassuring word. It implies that she won’t always be opposed to protecting belugas, just not right now.

By “premature,” Ms. Palin might mean that scientific studies of the beluga whale population are incomplete. It is hard to see her as a proponent of exacting science; some of the studies her aides cited to justify her earlier opposition to listing the polar bear as endangered flatly ignored the threats posed by climate change and were financed by the oil industry. There is little doubt that her real concern is protecting Alaska’s gas-and-oil development.

Presumably, the time for listing the belugas will be mature when the gas-and-oil infrastructure in Cook Inlet is in place and the shipping lanes are running full and the fishing industry is going gangbusters. After humans have gotten everything they want out of those waters, then it will be time.

The problem, of course, is that by that time, the whales will be gone. Writes Klinkenborg:

What makes Ms. Palin an especially effective anti-environmentalist is that she comes from Alaska. She touches the expansionist chord, the ancestral American feeling that there will always be enough nature, although it is already clear that the systemic balance of nature is beginning to break down over much of the globe. I picture Governor Palin as an old-time buffalo hunter, wielding a Sharps buffalo rifle as skillfully as she wields a misstatement. “There will,” she says, “be time” — BOOM — “to protect those buffalo there, but at the moment” — BOOM — “it is premature.”

The environment hasn’t gotten much play in an election cycle dominated first by Iraq and then by the economy. But in an era of global warming and declining biodiversity (See post: “My Debate Question“), can we really afford to have such an avid anti-environmentalist a heartbeat away?