Trump appears poised to block Alaska’s Pebble Mine as Army Corps requests more mitigation

Published on
August 24, 2020

U.S. President Donald Trump plans to block permits for the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, according to a Saturday, 22 August Politico report.

Politico cited six people close to the project in reporting Trump is expected to make a public statement opposing the project after a conference call with the Alaska’s Army Corps of Engineers office on Monday, 24 August.

It would be a surprising about-face from Trump, whom many fishermen and activists have accused of attempting to rush through an incomplete permitting process for the controversial project, a massive open-pit gold and copper mine at the headwaters of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

At the same time as reports of Trump’s potential denial emerged, the Army Corps of Engineers demanded new environmental mitigation for the mine, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Army Corps sent a letter requiring the company behind the mine take extra steps to avoid adverse impacts to aquatic resources – adding another delay to the project.

Fishermen, native groups, and activists have been fighting the mine for nearly two decades, and the project appeared to be dead after the Obama administration ruled in 2014 that the mine would damage salmon habitat in the area. But when current Alaska Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy took office in 2018, he set his sights on reviving the mine with a business-friendly administration in the White House.

Dunleavy and Trump met on Air Force One on 26 June, 2019, and almost immediately afterwards, the EPA said it was looking into overturning the ban on the mine. CNN later reported the mine’s developer, Pebble Limited Partnership, had worked closely with Dunleavy, giving him talking points and coaching him on how to lobby the Trump administration.

Despite accusations of cronyism and a deeply flawed permitting process, the Corps’ final Environmental Impact Statement on Pebble Mine hit the Federal Registry on 24 July, which means the mine could be approved by the EPA by the end of August 2020.

However, in recent weeks, Trump has come under pressure to oppose the mine from people close to him, including his own son, Donald Trump Jr., who has spent time salmon sport fishing in the Bristol Bay area. According to Politico, GOP donor Andy Sabin and Bass Pro Shops CEO Johnny Morris are among other prominent Republican supporters putting pressure on the president to shut the project down. Politico's sources were unsure what form the president’s opposition to Pebble Mine would take, but it would likely be rejection of water rights for the mine. The EPA holds the power to veto the mine.

After nearly two decades of investment and political struggle, a rejection by Trump could spell the end of the mining project, at least for the foreseeable future. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said he will oppose the mine if he wins the November election.  

Photo courtesy of The White House

Contributing Editor reporting from Seattle, USA

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