As the federal government's environmental review of the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, continues, will opposition by local and environmental groups stop the project even before a permit application is filed? During today's OnPoint, Jason Metrokin, CEO of the Bristol Bay Native Corp., gives a progress report on the environmental review process and explains why he believes the proposed mine would be destructive to the region.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Jason Metrokin, CEO of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. Jason, thanks for coming on the show.
Jason Metrokin: My pleasure.
Monica Trauzzi: Jason, before we get into the politics of all this, get us up to speed on where the Pebble Mine Project stands right now in the environmental review process.
Jason Metrokin: Sure, well, the proposed Pebble Mine Project is really still in an exploration stage in Bristol Bay. There is talk about the project ultimately getting to a permit application stage later next year, possibly in the late fall or winter.
Monica Trauzzi: So, right now what you're trying to do is sort of halt it from even moving any further and there was a Save Our Salmon initiative, which generated quite a bit of action in Alaska. How do Alaskans feel about this project?
Jason Metrokin: You know, generally, Alaskans are very interested in developing and supporting responsible resource development around the state. They're also very interested in protecting the resources that we have and in Bristol Bay it's all about salmon. Alaskans know that resource development is going to continue to be the backbone of the economy, but there are resources that are worth protecting and there are cultures and subsistence lifestyles that are worth protecting, especially within the native community.
Monica Trauzzi: Senator Murkowski has said that attempts to prejudge the development before a permit application has even been submitted makes a mockery of the federal environmental review process. Are you preemptively attempting to veto this project and should you give it some time to actually go through the permitting process and let everyone do their due diligence?
Jason Metrokin: Yeah, well, that's a great question. You know, the process that's in place today is both a state process and a federal process. I think in both situations there is room for improvement. Ultimately, what we do know about the project, even though permits have not been submitted and even though a final project plan has not been unveiled, what we do know about the project in terms of its size, its location, the type of the deposit and the known resources, again the salmon largely that are in Bristol Bay, need to be protected. And if the permit review process still needs room to improve itself, then we feel that the project could be ultimately stop now if, again, it doesn't show us that it can coexist with the existing resources.
Monica Trauzzi: Does EPA have the authority to stop the project dead?
Jason Metrokin: Well, they have the 404 process and that authority is in place today. Now, whether they use it or not or whether ultimately they have that authority is really for them to understand and for the process to ultimately unveil. But, again, Bristol Bay Native Corporation and we think a large portion of the residents of Alaska, certainly the majority of the people in Bristol Bay feel that the project should be stopped now, because we know that it can't coexist with those existing resources.
Monica Trauzzi: The Pebble Mine could bring job and economic growth to the region. We're talking about tapping into undeveloped minerals in that area. In the current economic climate, where all the talk is about, you know, jobs and boosting the economy, doesn't it make sense to move forward with something like this?
Jason Metrokin: Well, Bristol Bay Native Corporation is all about economics and jobs and economic benefit. In fact, as a $1.7 billion company with 3500 employees all around the world, 40 different subsidiary operations, we know benefits can come from resource development, for example. But jobs are already available in Bristol Bay. We have a thriving fishery that many, many people are employed by, not to mention the fact that they live off of through their subsistence economy. We will continue to invest in Bristol Bay, in resources and in economic opportunities that we think can coexist with the lifestyles of the people that live there.
Monica Trauzzi: When Pebble's John Shively was on the show a few months ago he said that the technology exists to make this happen in an environmentally sound way, in terms of water management specifically. Do you believe the technology is there? Can this be done?
Jason Metrokin: I believe the technology has certainly advanced over the years. Pick your industry, technology is still evolving. But we're not building this project, rather the developers aren't building this project in a vacuum. They're building it on top of one of the world's largest, if not the last wild salmon population on the planet. And they're also looking to build this literally on top of the headwaters of the spawning grounds for over 40 million fish every year. So, if you build this on paper, engineers will tell you anything can be done on paper, but to get out there and have your feet on the ground and understand where this proposed project is trying to be developed, it just doesn't make sense to us.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you believe that the folks in charge of this project who are developing it are concerned about the natural resources involved?
Jason Metrokin: Absolutely. You know, I know John well, I know many of his team members well, but ultimately they're trying to put forth a project that will be economic for them. What we're saying is that there's already an economy there. It's economic for the people that live there. You cannot trade one resource for another. And I think they wholeheartedly believe that the salmon are worth protecting. I just don't think that they see the ultimate value of that fishery and how it can sustain itself for the long term without the mine.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you see a scenario where fishing and mining could coexist?
Jason Metrokin: Not in this location.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there on that note.
Jason Metrokin: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: Thank you for coming on the show.
Jason Metrokin: My pleasure.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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