Rick Whitbeck

GUEST COMMENTARY: Narrative of fear doesn’t need facts to win

Alaskans know that the future of our state depends on our ability to responsibly extract natural resources. Perhaps more certainly than citizens of any other state, we understand how our economy and livelihood depends on whether we are allowed to utilize our own land as we please, without interference from the Lower 48. That’s why recent attempts from some politicians in Washington to limit the rights of Alaskans are so counterproductive. Just last week, Former Vice President Joe Biden rolled out an energy plan that included a ban on offshore drilling in the Arctic. Senators and representatives from states like Rhode Island and Maine – Republicans included – have rolled out legislation to do the same. Recent history suggests that every major development in Alaska will be “controversial” going forward. The proposal to expand Alaska’s economy by permitting responsible development in ANWR is just one example. Yet there is nothing wrong with that word; it simply means there are strong opinions on both sides. But “controversy” isn’t a reason to stop progress. Here’s why: Every major development will be met by a narrative of fear perpetrated by its opponents, often environmental activist groups. Stoking fear is the easy way to try and halt development. It doesn’t rely on winning the facts or making the best case – it’s all about denigrating opponents and being the loudest voice in the room. The funny thing that typically accompanies these fear-inducing declarations? They’re nearly always ended with a plea for campaign donations. Environmental activists do this because it works. Fear-mongering produces a fortune for the groups who use them. In Alaska, we’ve seen these narratives since before I was born. In 1968, with the plan to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System underway, eco-groups wrongly predicted the end of caribou herds and the destruction of the pipeline due to earthquake activity, and the demise of Alaska Native cultures. Check your watch – it has been 51 years, and none of those have happened. You may look at those predictions now and see them as absurd, but many believed them in the moment. After all, those statements preyed on many peoples’ fears. Eco-groups are using the same tactics today, but with even larger platforms on social media, e-mail blasts and online-organized activist rallies. They use these tactics to stifle development, often by trying to halt the already-long permitting process that accompanies major projects. There are rules for approving resource projects. Lots of requirements. Lots of time for the public to weigh in. The rules tell you the terms and how to prepare. For mines, there is a book printed by the Environmental Protection Agency, titled EPA and Hardrock Mining: A Source Book for Industry in the Northwest and Alaska. This book outlines the requirements for pursuing approval for mining projects, and knowing the information in the book is critical to the prospect of having any mining opportunities in our state. It simply costs too much money and time to enter a project without a clear understanding of the requirements. For those willing to undertake the process, years and several million dollars (at a minimum) of scientific and technical work will be required. Impact studies must be done, branches of the federal government must approve, and the public has plentiful opportunities to comment. All this must be done while fending off the alarmists hard at work on their narrative of fear. As Alaska’s future resource opportunities develop, here’s hoping that the activist groups who speak factually-inaccurate, emotionally-charged fear in hopes of dimming Alaska’s bright future are seen for what they are. If fear is given credence over fact, Alaska will lose out on significant opportunities. Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power the Future, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on energy and resource development.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Tesla’s warning highlights the eco-left’s hypocrisy

Tesla, the world’s current “it” auto manufacturer, is concerned. Their American-made electric vehicles, or EVs, require steady supplies of mined materials: lithium, copper, cobalt and more. And our current capacity might not be enough. Sarah Maryssael, Tesla’s global supply manager for battery metals, reportedly warned at a closed-door industry conference last week that a global shortage of critical EV components is coming. Tesla is warning of “long-term supply challenges” because of “underinvestment in the mining sector.” Tesla is right to be concerned about underinvestment in the mining sector, but who should they be concerned with? We need to be asking why hasn’t there been enough investment when we know the need for these elements is coming? The answer is simple: the environmentalist movement. For years, environmental groups have worked to raise the cost of opening new mines, especially here in Alaska, where we have plentiful opportunities. They threaten lawsuits, file legal actions, bring in protestors — actions that cumulatively make it more expensive and more difficult to open new mining facilities. And here’s the crazy part: The same environmental activists who are trying to push “green” energy and transportation are the people fighting the mining activities that can help make it happen. It’s hypocrisy at its finest: they demand green energy but protest the resources needed to make EV’s and battery storage a reality. In Alaska, for example, the public outcry from environmentalists against the Pebble mine has been deafening. Eco-activists say we must choose between mining and fishery health, and they have relentlessly pursued all means necessary to shutter Pebble before it has a chance to work through the permitting process. Don’t forget, Pebble would be primarily a copper mine — one of the inputs that Tesla is warning could face shortages. The same environmental extremism has begun against the whole of the Ambler Mining District, an area in Northwest Alaska that holds world-class deposits, because it will take a new road through state and federal lands to access the projects. The Aktigiruq deposit features zinc, gold and lead. Arctic VMS has identified copper zinc, lead, gold and silver in its deposit landscape. Bornite has significant copper and cobalt resource potential in its claim area, while Taurus has notable deposits of copper, gold and molybdenum. Graphite Creek has the largest large-flake graphite deposit in the U.S. All of these projects would help in one way or another to improve output of materials needed to build a more robust green energy world. If the eco-activists had their way, these resources would remain in the ground. Their protests then make no sense. Will the environmental extremists cede their moral high ground, stop fighting against the mining industry, and realize that resource extraction actually serves their goals in the long run? My guess is no. To do so would be to give up a potent fundraising method used to vilify responsible resource extraction, and the energy workers who are employed at those projects. Environmental groups in Alaska and abroad should heed Tesla’s warning. America can lead the way, develop our resources and create the inputs needed for new, low-cost forms of energy and storage — if only these groups would stand aside. Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power The Future, a nationwide non-profit focused on supporting energy workers, while pushing back on radical green groups and the ideologues who fund them. Contact him at [email protected]
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