Trump Admin Reopens Possibility Of Gold Mine In Alaska, Environmentalists Go NUTS
Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed is spotted with “lakes and tributaries [that] feed into the headwaters of Bristol Bay, home to a fishery that generates $500 million a year,” according to The Washington Post. Since about 2004, Pebble Limited Partnership has been looking into mining within the watershed, as it contains billions of dollars of gold, copper, and another metal, molybdenum.
Pebble Limited Partnership, as well as its parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd, were denied mining approval in 2014 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — but that decision has now been reversed under the Trump administration after multiple lawsuits.
The Washington Post writes:
The company has sued EPA on three different fronts, arguing that the agency violated the Clean Water Act, colluded with outside groups to reach its determination and violated the Freedom of Information Act. The suit concerning the outside groups, filed under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, was the one settled Thursday in federal court in Alaska.
Under the terms of the agreement, EPA will begin the process of withdrawing its proposed determination, which will be subject to public notice and comment. It will not take the next step in the process until 48 months from the settlement or until the Army Corps of Engineers issues its final environmental impact statement, whichever comes first.
But this isn’t a free-for-all. The mining area will still be subject to an evaluation by the Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act. When the Army Corps of Engineers writes an environmental impact statement, the EPA “would then begin the process of determining how much mining material can be disposed of from the Pebble Mine,” reports The Washington Examiner.
Alaska Dispatch News (ADN) quotes recently-appointed EPA head, Scott Pruitt:
“We understand how much the community cares about this issue, with passionate advocates on all sides,” Pruitt said. “The agreement will not guarantee or prejudge a particular outcome, but will provide Pebble a fair process for their permit application and help steer EPA away from costly and time-consuming litigation. We are committed to listening to all voices as this process unfolds.”
The outlet adds: “As part of the agreement, the EPA will be allowed to use ‘use its scientific assessment regarding the Bristol Bay Watershed without limitation,’ the agency said in a statement.”
The Washington Post quotes Ron Thiessen, the CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals:
“From the outset of this unfortunate saga, we’ve asked for nothing more than fairness and due process under the law — the right to propose a development plan for Pebble and have it assessed against the robust environmental regulations and rigorous permitting requirements enforced in Alaska and the United States. …Today’s settlement gives us precisely that, the same treatment every developer and investor in a stable, first world country should expect.”
Despite promises that the evaluation will be fair, environmental activists are livid. Bristol Bay Native Corp committee chairman, Russel Nelson, claims Pebble is a dishonest organization:
“Pebble can tell you what they want, you just need to look on their website, they’re going to mine it until the end until the last dollar until they can extract the last dollar out of that resource. …They can tell you it’s small, but look at the cost of developing. They need to get their money out. They’re in it for the money.”
According to ADN, it was Bristol Bay Native Corp, as well as several other environmental organizations, that drove the EPA to place the Bristol Bay watershed off-limits. This, of course, led to the lawsuit from Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd alleging outside interference.
United Tribes of Bristol Bay executive director, Alannah Hurley, is also unhappy with the decision: “If there’s damage to the watershed and the fisheries, then it would be devastating to our identity as indigenous people.”
Trump yet again puts corporate profits above the long-term health of communities and the environment #SaveBristolBayhttps://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/05/12/obama-blocked-this-controversial-alaskan-gold-mine-trump-just-gave-it-new-life/?utm_term=.027e27906f62 …
Given what’s known, it’s possible the EPA rendered judgment without sufficient information, or that its judgments were overblown. It’s also possible that the organization made a hasty judgment based not on evidence, but on the pleas of the locals regarding the potentially adverse effects of a large-scale mining operation in the watershed.
That said, the EPA’s 2014 assessment offered several scenarios in which mining operations would indeed harm the salmon population, including a possible 94 mile reduction in streams, “eliminated, blocked, or dewatered,” which provide “spawning or rearing habitats.” Other potential impacts included a reduction in the overall salmon population.
If the report is accurate and unbiased, such an impact would warrant further discussion regarding the ways in which a mining operation could lessen or eliminate its impact on the Bristol Bay fish population. Otherwise, a potential ban on watershed mining in that area may be best.
The full assessment can be read here.
It’s certainly possible that a mining operation would, in truth, be harmful to the fishing economy in Bristol Bay. However, it will be up to the Army Corps of Engineers to honestly evaluate the situation without the interference of activists from either side.