The Trump-Pruitt EPA Eases the Way for an Ecological and Economic Catastrophe in Alaska’s Bristol Bay Region
The Environmental Protection Agency has quietly settled a lawsuit that could clear the way for a Canadian company to dig the largest open-pit mine in North America in the pristine Bristol Bay region of Alaska. The company, which was barred from digging the mine by the Obama administration, now has 30 months to apply for a permit to devastate a region the EPA describes as “an area of unparalleled ecological value.”
The site of the proposed mine, an area larger than Manhattan that’s about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, sits in the middle of the Bristol Bay watershed, an array of wetlands, streams and rivers that boasts the world’s largest runs of wild Pacific salmon, including half of the world’s annual sockeye salmon catch.
Overall, the Bristol Bay watershed’s ecological resources generated nearly $480 million in direct economic expenditures and sales and provided employment for over 14,000 full- and part-time workers in 2009, the EPA said. Commercial fishing in the area alone is a $300-million-a-year industry that employs 11,000 people.
The proposed Pebble Deposit Area mine, the Obama EPA said, will result in a “complete loss of fish habitat” in the region. And Wall Street investors have labeled it a worthless boondoggle.
Nevertheless, Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said the May 11 settlement “will provide Pebble a fair process for their permit application and help steer the EPA away from costly and time-consuming litigation.”
Ronald Thiessen, the president and CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., and Tom Collier, the CEO of Pebble Partnership, said they expect the mine to be one of the first projects to go through an expedited permitting process. The company has been proposing the mine since at least the early 2000s. Collier was chief of staff at the Interior Department under Bill Clinton.
The Bristol Bay region contains low-grade ore of copper, gold and molybdenum, but investors such as Teck Cominco and Mitsubishi have dropped out of the project.
A New York hedge fund, Kerrisdale Capital Management, called the project worthless in a February report because of how much the mine would cost to build. The permit process alone is expected to cost $150 million.
“President Trump’s EPA may be easier on the mining industry than President Obama’s, but it can’t make a success out of a value-destroying boondoggle,” Kerrisdale said in its report.
The EPA estimated the mine could destroy up to 94 miles of streams and erode the genetic diversity of the Bristol Bay salmon. The company would also need to build a large power plant, deep-water harbor, an 86-mile-long road, pipelines and multiple dams. Mine tailings and waste rock produced by the smallest proposal would be enough to fill football stadium more than 880 times.
“Endangering America’s greatest salmon fishery to enrich a mining conglomerate shows Pruitt’s complete contempt for the EPA’s mission,” said Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity.