The pro-industry Trump administration has given its blessing to a massive proposed open-pit copper and gold mine in southwest Alaska, concluding that the project will not significantly damage the pristine environment.
The final environmental impact statement, published Friday, is the latest twist in a nearly 20-year fight over a Canadian company’s push to construct North America’s largest gold and copper mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, the most productive sockeye salmon fishery in the world.
The Obama administration worked to block Pebble Mine construction over concerns that it could destroy the bay and salmon fishery. But Trump and his team breathed new life into the project, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined Friday that the project would have no “measurable” effect on salmon stocks or the watershed.
Pebble Limited Partnership, the company behind the project, must still secure permits from the Corps and the state before it can begin construction. In a statement last week, CEO Tom Collier said the final environmental analysis “will mark one of the most significant milestones” and show “the tremendous economic opportunity a project like Pebble could mean for the residents of Southwest Alaska.”
“We also know the project will make significant contributions to Alaska’s overall economy – something that is even more important given today’s time of tremendous economic uncertainty,” Collier said.
Alaska native tribes that rely on the salmon fishery argue the risk of environmental disaster outweighs any potential economic benefits. The United Tribes of Bristol Bay said in a statement on Thursday that the final EIS ignores science and community concerns.
“Our cultures, communities and economies rely on our clean water and protecting this for generations to come is far more important than short-term profits,” Ralph Andersen, the group’s president, said. ”The project would permanently destroy thousands of acres of wetlands and more than one hundred miles of streams, forever devastating our region. Industrial mining is simply not compatible with our vision for the future in Bristol Bay and we will do whatever it takes to stop this toxic project.”
Pebble Limited Partnership plans to extract some 1.4 billion tons of gold- and copper-rich material over a 20-year period, worth as much as $500 billion. The operation would permanently damage more than 2,200 acres of wetlands and more than 100 miles of streams, according to the final EIS.
Environmental groups promise to continue fighting the administration in court.
“The last minute change in a transportation route won’t mitigate the nightmare this project poses to water, fish, indigenous people and the region’s whole way of life,” Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a Friday statement. “Pebble Mine is a failed investment and an environmental disaster waiting to happen, and we will challenge it at every step.”
Friday’s action comes two days after Congress passed what’s been hailed as the most significant conservation legislation in a generation. President Donald Trump has promised to sign the bill into law, which will fix crumbling national park infrastructure and permanently fund a decades-old conservation program.
Meanwhile, the president and his team ― the most anti-conservation administration in history, according to a recent analysis ― continue their race to advance extraction and other development projects and roll back a slew of environmental safeguards. On Thursday, for example, the Interior Department approved a 211-mile mining road that will cut through a portion of Alaska’s pristine Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve.