In a repudiation of Obama-era policies, the Trump administration said on Friday that the Pebble Mine, a huge proposed gold and copper mine in Alaska that would be the largest of its kind in North America, will not cause major environmental harm.
Obama officials had halted development of the mine over fears it would damage the habitat of the local sockeye salmon fishery.
Pebble Mine reportedly contains deposits of gold, copper and other minerals worth up to $500 billion.
The decision on Pebble marks the latest of many Obama environmental policies that Trump has reversed, including withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate change accord. Trump has also sought to push through two major oil and gas pipelines — Keystone XL and Dakota Access – which the Obama administration had blocked.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that the Pebble mine “would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers” in the local Bristol Bay watershed.
Now the mine is expected to be approved by Trump by the end of the year.
However, should Trump lose the November election, the mine project may be stalled again.
“In between administrations you’re going to get different results,” said Marcella Burke, a former lawyer at the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department under Trump. “That’s just reality, especially in places like Alaska.”
Pebble Partnership chief executive Tom Collier, a top official on the proposed mine, called the federal environmental review “the most significant day in the 15-year history of the Pebble Project.”
“I believe we’ll be able to convince a Biden administration, if that’s what we have, that this is an appropriate project and move ahead,” he said. “It’s not a document that justifies a veto, it’s a document that justifies a permit. They’re not going to be able to just flip a switch and turn that around.”
Collier also pointed out that the mining project is now “dramatically different” from the one proposed during the Obama years. For example, the project is smaller and includes safeguards to prevent contamination from the stored waste resulting from mining.
“We took a lot of environmental risk out of this project,” he added.
However, Taryn Keikow Heimer of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the project is opposed by local indigenous groups.
“It’s especially embarrassing for the government and appalling given the current social context we are in,” she said. “It’s just another example of the entrenched and systematic racism that this government is showing to people of color and indigenous people in particular.”
She added: “The Pebble Mine would threaten the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery, which generates $1.5 billion in annual revenue and 14,000 jobs. Salmon have sustained Bristol Bay subsistence culture, community, and identity of Alaska Natives for millennia. It’s no wonder that the people of Bristol Bay and Alaska overwhelmingly oppose it.”