The late July announcement that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is poised to green-light the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska revealed an appalling misuse of federal environmental review.
That means the disappointing reversal of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2014 decision to block the massive gold- and copper-mining project may have disastrous consequences. The mine would put the health of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run at risk.
A welcome glimmer of hope appeared Tuesday, when the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted his opposition to the mine. Trump, a well-traveled fisherman, wrote correctly that the “headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chance with.”
As the Tweet and President Donald Trump’s signing of the Great American Outdoors Act Tuesday showed, his administration has shown a fresh election-year sensitivity to environmental concerns. Now is the time to press the critical issue of stopping Pebble Mine.
The Bristol Bay fishery brings a $1.5 billion annual business via tourists and commercial fishers, and supports 14,000 jobs. The EPA reversal cleared the path for the Corps to conduct the environmental study required for a permit.
The Corps reported, absurdly, that excavating Pebble Mine would not mean “long-term changes in the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay” — even though 105 miles of streams and 2,200 acres of wetlands and waters would be permanently destroyed. The would-be mining company, a Canadian concern, believes the deposits in Pebble Mine could yield $500 billion across 20 years of excavation. The Corps’ finding means a federal permit may be granted by the end of the year, perhaps much sooner.
There are several pathways that could still stop the mine, from a court challenge or a later president revoking the mine’s construction permit. The simplest method is the surest: Leaders must halt a permit before it is issued.
Two of Alaska’s three-member Republican Congressional delegation, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, are on this fall’s ballot. Neither has taken a strong position yet on the mine, despite being staunchly pro-business. Trump Jr.’s opposition gave Sullivan political cover to say he is “increasingly concerned” about the Corps’ findings. He should lead the full state delegation in asking the president to stop the mine.
As longtime Pebble Mine opponent Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., noted Tuesday, Trump Jr. should not be the only member of his family who finds this project too risky.
The potential damage exceeds even a drastic reshaping of wilderness landscape. The cyanide and mercury that accumulate in mining waste — “tailings” — would be an immense risk to leach into bay-adjacent waters in an earthquake or flood. With Pebble Mine planned to accumulate 10 billion tons of tainted waste materials, the prospect of large-scale fishery catastrophe is very real.
The U.S. House of Representatives did a public service by attaching a ban on Pebble Mine permitting to the $1.3 trillion 2021 spending legislation that passed in July. Senators and the Trump administration must act similarly and stop Pebble Mine before a permit is signed.