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article imageObama Favors Pebble Mine In Alaska Building Earthquake-Proof Dams

By Dave Giza     Aug 24, 2008 in Politics
Barack Obama and Fairbanks, Alaska Mayor Jim Whitaker have one thing in common: they oppose Proposition 4 which would ban large metal mines from discharging large amounts of toxic chemicals into salmon streams and drinking water supplies.
Jim Whitaker, the current mayor of Fairbanks, Alaska co-wrote an editorial in The Anchorage Daily News that forcefully opposes Proposition 4. This ballot initiative opposes the Pebble Mine from being funded and built. The voters decide on August 26.
Although Proposition 4 just applies to the Bristol Bay area of Alaska, not one word is mentioned about the Pebble Mine or Bristol Bay in the wording of the ballot initiative. According to the Anchorage Daily News article, ''Alaska's Constitution, Article XI, Section 7, specifically prevents special or local legislation by initiative and requires that Measure 4 be applied statewide.''
A Washington, D.C. based lobbying group is funding the ballot initiative. Americans For Job Security is funding the ''yes'' campaign but refuses to disclose its source of ''soft'' money. This group has been found guilty of violating Alaska's election laws in the past.
Alaska has an extremely stringent and thorough review process regarding mines getting permits. It has a federal and state review process that includes environmental impact studies. Mining companies have to adhere to strict water-quality standards. Alaska's newest mine, the Pogo Mine, took over four years for the permitting process to be completed before digging could commence.
If Proposition 4 is passed, this stringent regulatory process would be replaced by an arbitrary procedure that is decided by regulations and court decisions after people have voted. Passage of Measure 4 would lead to unnecessary lawsuits that would further impede the regulatory process and put current projects on hold.
According to the Anchorage Daily News editorial co-authored by Whitaker and Cynthia Toohey, (Toohey is a RN and a chairperson of Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown. She is also a former state legislator from Anchorage and part owner of the Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood, Alaska). ''mining supports over 5,500 jobs in 100 communities and generates hundreds of millions of dollars per year in state and local taxes.''
If approved, the Pebble mine will be the largest mine in North America with an approximate size of 28 square miles. A large power plant will have to be constructed to provide power for the mine. For more specific and detailed information about mine waste and water usage, go to
What does this have to do with Obama? He knows that the presidential race is close and Democrats need to make inroads into Alaska. Actually, they want to be competitive in Idaho and Nevada as well. Obama became friends with miners in those states during the primary season by opposing statutory amendments to the 1872 General Mining Law.
According to Ralph Nader in the CounterPunch newsletter, the General Mining Law of 1872 ''is a relic of efforts to settle the West allows mining companies to claim federal lands for $5 an acre or less and then take gold, silver, lead or other hard-rock minerals with no royalty payments to the public treasury.''
Western lawmakers have regularly blocked any changes to the General Mining Law of 1872. Mining companies, including foreign owned ones, have been able to extract billions of dollars worth of minerals from federal lands royalty free.
Obama opposed a bill in the House of Representatives that was proposed in late 2007 that would have charged a royalty of 4 percent of gross revenue on existing mining operations and an 8 percent tax on new hard-rock mining operations. New environmental controls would've been imposed on hard-rock mining, a permanent ban would have been placed on cheap sales of public land for mining and a cleanup fund would have been put into place for abandoned mines.
Obama opposed it because he said that it would have a significant impact on jobs. he hopes that environmentalists in Alaska and nationwide will forget about this. Mining interests in Alaska have contributed more money to the ''Vote No to Ballot Initiative 4'' than contributions to either presidential candidate.
Obama has awarded Fairbanks Mayor Whitaker with an invitation to the Denver, Colorado Democratic National Convention in exchange for his endorsement of the campaign. Is this ''change we can believe in'' or just another example of the old style politics of one hand washing the other? You can decide this for yourself.
By the way, Whitaker is a Republican.
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