Certain dates are forever etched in Alaska history: March 30, 1867, when we were purchased from Russia. Jan. 3, 1959, when we became our nation’s 49th state. March 13, 1968, when oil was discovered on the North Slope at Prudhoe Bay.
One day, July 26, 2023 may be remembered this way as well: when the State of Alaska sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for issuing a pre-emptive veto of the permitting process for the Pebble Project. Arguing that EPA ‘effectively confiscated State property and created a de facto national park by invoking the veto, the motion requested to have the case heard directly by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In announcing the lawsuit, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, stated “bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. are exercising unbridled and unlawful power the choke off any further discussion on this important decision.”
Here’s why the case matters: Pebble is the world’s second-largest untapped copper deposit, with world-class gold, molybdenum, rhenium, and silver opportunities as well. It has long been vilified by environmentalists and even some public officials, who have waged a multi-faceted war by declaring that the mine would devastate the salmon harvests in Bristol Bay, which is located over 200 river miles away. Polling done in the early 2010s found that a slim majority of statewide residents opposed the original mine plan.
With that in mind, Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM), the company spearheading Pebble’s development, adapted its mine plan to remove the most contentious parts. The revised development process no longer used cyanide in the processing of the minerals, nor was a massive earthen dam going to be used to permanently store tailings, which opponents claimed could fail and send millions of gallons of poison and toxics into the watershed. NDM shrunk the proposed footprint to a fraction of the original and worked through the NEPA process beginning in 2017, with a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) issued in July 2020 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, finding – without ambiguity – the mine would have no significant impact to the Bristol Bay fishery.
With that clean FEIS and no threat to the fishery in place, you’d think climate activists obsessed with decarbonizing the planet and solving the so-called ‘climate crisis’ would celebrate Pebble for its domestic supplies of copper. After all, technologies critical to the green transition, such as EVs and wind turbines, require much more copper than conventional fossil fuel-based counterparts.
You’d be completely wrong. The eco-Left doubled down on their fight against Pebble, even though studies show the worldwide demand for copper will more than double between now and 2050.
To be fair, the misguided voices on Pebble were not limited to the left. After the FEIS was published, even right-leaning journalist Tucker Carlson, and politicians including Alaska’s U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, along with Donald Trump, Jr. joined the zealots demanding the Pebble resource base be locked up via administrative and political action, rather than letting the process continue to move forward. Free market be damned; Alaska needed to be saved from itself.
If past is prologue, the State should have a strong case before SCOTUS. In each of three recent decisions (Sturgeon vs Frost (2016/2019), West Virginia vs Environmental Protection Agency (2022) and Sackett vs Environmental Protection Agency (2023), the Court made it clear that executive-branch overreach was occurring, and that it needed to be stopped. The decisions struck back at the weaponization of agency agendas by bureaucrats who create regulation, rather than follow laws passed by Congress.
If a domestic supply of copper – one that will create 2.000 construction jobs and 600 full-time jobs – in a geographic area with a staggering 50% unemployment – and hundreds of millions of dollars of local, state and federal revenues can be built safely according to a proven science-based process, why fight it?
Maybe because the ability to create a domestic supply chain for ‘green’ technology-necessary copper isn’t the goal of the extremists. By fighting Pebble – and every other development project in the state – the real battle plan has been shown to be a complete lock-down of Alaska’s lands, waters and resources, in hopes of driving away industry and turning the state into one gigantic park.
Pebble’s science is clear, that it can be built without impacting fish. Kudos to Governor Dunleavy and his administration for taking the fight to the federal government and standing tall for all Alaskans. Here’s hoping the Supreme Court hears the case quickly, finds for the State – and against federal overreach – once again, and allows science to trump a narrative of fear.
Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @PTFAlaska