Trump administration seeks to greenlight controversial Alaska mine

A final decision could come in as little as 30 days.

By Yereth Rosen, Reuters - July 24, 2020
Opponents of Pebble Mine fear that its wastewater could foul Bristol Bay and wipe out fishing there. (Echo Forsberg)

ANCHORAGE — The Trump administration on Friday proposed approving a key permit to build an Alaska copper and gold mine that the Obama administration had tried to block over environmental concerns.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a final environmental impact statement on the Pebble Mine, located near the world’s largest natural salmon runs, that would allow construction of the mine and associated developments, including an 82-mile (132-kilometer) road system.

That paves the way for a final decision in as little as 30 days for the project, which is owned by Canada’s Northern Dynasty Minerals.

During the Obama administration, the controversial project opposed by the fishing industry, Alaska Natives, and environmentalists appeared dead.

The Obama administration tried to prevent permitting for Pebble construction after a study it had launched concluded the mine would irreparably damage the salmon-rich habitat and the people and wildlife that depend on it.

“For the Army Corps to rubber-stamp a massive toxic open-pit mine in the headwaters of a national food source just doesn’t make sense,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

The proposed road is a change from the original plan submitted by the Pebble Limited Partnership. The company wanted to access the mine using icebreakers to cross Alaska’s largest lake, but the Corps determined a road skirting the north side of the lake was environmentally preferable.

Native organizations that own land along the route have vowed to prevent Pebble from using it, which could tie the project up in legal wrangling.

Friday’s decision comes a day after the Trump administration approved a plan for another Alaska mining effort: a 211-mile (340-kilometer) mining-access road through the Brooks Range foothills to a minerals-rich area in the northwest of the state.

Additional reporting by Reporting by Arunima Kumar in Bengaluru.