Impact assessment, public engagement, and environmental knowledge production: Large mine permitting in Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta

Tollefson, J. and Pannikar, B.

Journal of Political Ecology 27(1) | PDF

Abstract For large extractive mineral projects, Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) processes function in part as a procedural tool to adjudicate the legitimacy of divergent environmental truth claims. Successful anti-extraction movements work to litigate divergent knowledge claims in the public arena, but few anti-extraction communities have access to a broad public audience. This article examines the proposed Donlin Gold mine in southwestern Alaska, a locally divisive yet publicly invisible extraction controversy, to understand how communities contest the boundaries of knowledge production and legitimacy set out by EIS procedures without the benefit of broad public awareness. Through a multi-method analysis of the public engagement segment of Donlin’s Draft EIS, we find that anti-Donlin activists worked to construct environmental knowledge that drew jointly on claims to local knowledge and scientific expertise through a temporary assemblage of local activists and external consultants. The contested epistemic understandings of residents, expert consultants, and state and federal regulators further reveal the role of regulatory processes in constructing and maintaining boundaries of epistemic legitimacy, while also pointing to emergent possibilities for social action based in locally-situated environmental truth claims.