The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Donald Trump has shelved a lawsuit against a proposed Canadian gold and copper mine that would endanger Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed, allowing the mining company to revive the controversial Pebble Mine project.
"If the Trump administration's strategy is to put a foreign mining company first—and America's greatest wild salmon fishery dead last—then sadly it's succeeding," wrote the NRDC's (Natural Resources Defense Council) Taryn Kiekow Heimer.
The legal settlement was reached late Thursday, the Washington Post reported, and reverses an Obama-era determination that Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. could not apply to a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers for the project because Pebble Mine would cause "significant near- and long-term risk to salmon, wildlife, and Native Alaska cultures" in the region. The EPA's 2014 decision has now been removed from its website.
Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, told the Washington Post that local Alaskans who have spent years opposing the mine "are outraged that this is happening."
"If there's damage to the watershed and the fisheries, then it would be devastating to our identity as indigenous people," Hurley said, telling the Post that locals asked the EPA to take action on the issue. "For the company to paint it as federal intervention is completely misleading. The people of Bristol Bay basically cried out to EPA to help us."
The Washington Post observed that a "coalition of fishing operators, native Alaskans, environmentalists, and local businesses have fought the mine proposal for more than a decade, ever since Northern Dynasty Minerals began exploring for minerals in 2004."
Bristol Bay is a critical wild salmon fishery, providing 46 percent of the world's supply of wild sockeye salmon, according to the NRDC. Its fishery is worth $1.5 billion a year, and it provides habitat for 29 fish species, 40 terrestrial mammal species, and 190 bird species.
Moreover, Indigenous Alaskans have lived in the region for over 4,000 years, and many there continue to live a traditional, subsistence-based lifestyle. "The predominant Alaska Native cultures present in the Bristol Bay watershed—the Yup'ik and Dena'ina—are two of the last intact, sustainable, salmon-based cultures in the world," the NRDC's Heimer noted.
"The proposed Pebble Mine—and its 10 billion tons of mining waste at the headwaters of Bristol Bay—would risk it all," Heimer added.
"EPA Administer Scott Pruitt claims the settlement is about providing Pebble a 'fair process,' but in reality it's putting Pebble Mine first and Bristol Bay second," Heimer wrote. "If he is really serious about 'listening to all voices as this process unfolds,' then it's time to listen to what the people of Alaska and Bristol Bay want. Spoiler alert: they do not want the Pebble Mine. More than 65 percent of Alaskans, 80 percent of Bristol Bay residents and Native communities, and 85 percent of commercial fishermen oppose the mine."