We’re six months into Donald Trump’s tenure as President, and there’s no denying his aggressive animus against public health and the environment. His appointments, his budget, his Executive Orders from energy to regulatory reform to water, and his drumbeat of support for coal, oil, and gas – there’s no nuance or ambiguity about any of it. He has quickly and irrefutably distinguished himself as the most relentlessly anti-environmental President in recent history – perhaps ever.
Scott Pruitt, Trump’s Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a longtime opponent of the agency he now runs, has spearheaded this agenda based largely on asserted rationales of returning environmental decision-making to the states (like the “states’ rights” argument against federal civil rights legislation), creating jobs, or replacing the heavy hand of federal regulation with cooperation and collaboration. But to anyone paying attention, it’s obvious that his rationale is more pretext than principle. He’s a defender not of federalism or real jobs but of the interests of corporate polluters.
Consider, for example, the uniquely reckless and wildly unpopular copper and gold mega-mine — the Pebble Mine — proposed for development in the headwaters of the greatest wild salmon fishery in the world, in the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska. Just six months ago, primarily because of immovable Alaskan opposition to the mine, and after three of the largest mining companies in the world walked away from the project (Mitsubishi in 2011, Anglo American in 2013, and Rio Tinto in 2014), the mega-mine was on life support, with EPA poised to significantly restrict its scope. Only one underfunded Canadian company (called Northern Dynasty Minerals) remained.
The story should have ended there, but thanks to Trump it didn’t.
With his election, Northern Dynasty saw an opening in Washington to breathe new life into its hugely unpopular project, no matter what the people of Alaska might think, and it seized that opportunity immediately. Only months into the new Administration, Scott Pruitt and Trump’s EPA agreed to withdraw the agency’s proposed restrictions and allow the Pebble Mine to move forward.
A formal announcement of that withdrawal process is expected today.
It didn’t apparently matter that the people of Alaska don’t want the mine. Indeed, the people of Alaska — especially those in the Bristol Bay region – have led the project’s opposition for well over a decade. Tribes, village associations, commercial and recreational fishing interests, hunters, conservationists, and even development corporations who recognize that the $1.5 billion a year Bristol Bay fishery is the economic engine of success for the region and its people, their communities, and their wildlife.
It didn’t matter that ignoring the state perspective flies directly in the face of Pruitt’s pretextual nod to states’ rights. It was Alaskans who requested EPA to protect the region from destruction at the hands of foreign mining interests, formally petitioning the agency under section 404(c) of the federal Clean Water Act. And it was Alaskans who responded in unprecedented numbers to support EPA’s intervention. During the Obama Administration, EPA responded favorably to this state-based cry for help, after a four-year scientific review and public comment process concluding that the mine’s impacts on the region could be “catastrophic.”
Nor, finally, did it matter that, if approved, the Pebble Mine would threaten tens of thousands of jobs and a world class fishery that generates 30-50 million fish each year and $1.5 billion in revenue. Unless environmental clean-up is considered part of the calculation, the Pebble Mine is a job-killer, not a job-creator. The decision to resuscitate it can’t be reconciled with any of the Administration’s claimed goals, but is solely a product of anti-environmental, pro-polluter sentiment – plain and simple.
Thanks to Trump the Pebble Mine is once again raising its battered head – a project reviled around the world for its recklessness but nowhere more vociferously than in Alaska itself. If the company follows through on its latest promise to seek federal permits, the intensity of that opposition will only grow as the necessity of engaging yet again to stop it grows clearer. Ultimately, the project will be defeated but not without years and years more of sustained attention and costly advocacy.
None of this seems to matter to Trump; indeed, he has likely never even heard of the Pebble Mine in his quest to “make America great again” by attacking environmental progress at every turn. But whether he’s heard of it or not, his Administration’s actions – just six months in — make crystal clear that, slogans aside, he will prioritize the myopic financial interests of a foreign mining company and its investors over the economic, social, cultural, and environmental interests of the people of Alaska.
Take action now to stand with the people of Alaska and stop the Pebble Mine.