By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency changed its position on the Pebble Mine project, near Bristol Bay, Alaska after Alaska’s Governor Mike Dunleavy met with President Donald Trump, according to a CNN report, leading to a wave of criticism.
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told staff scientists that it was no longer opposing a controversial Alaska mining project that could devastate one of the world’s most valuable wild salmon fisheries just one day after President Trump met with Alaska’s governor, CNN has learned,” stated the global news media.
Last Tuesday, August 6th, the agency announced that it would not use its authority to block the mine. Environmentalists, indigenous communities and the local fishing industry have been opposed to the project, stating that the project would compromise the fish industry in the bay.
Under the administration of President Obama, the EPA had also agreed that making the Pebble Mine operational would result in the ‘complete loss’ of fish habitat in Bristol Bay. Due to an EPA study in 2014, the project was halted, with the agency the Clean Water Act to block the mine from moving forward.
Governor Dunleavy, at the time, disagreed strongly with the halting of the project arguing that the mine would create jobs and reduce the U.S.’s dependence on minerals from other nations.
“This project, like all projects, should be scrutinized and examined under fair and rigorous permitting process prescribed by law. That was not the case under the EPA’s unprecedented preemptive veto,” governor Mike Dunleavy said in a statement last week.
Environmentalists and indigenous groups living in the area, however, say the mine would cause catastrophic damage to waterways due to toxic mine tailings.
“If that mine gets put in, it would […] completely devastate our region. It would not only kill our resources, but it would kill us culturally,” Second Chief of the Curyung Tribal Council Gayla Hoseth is quoted on CNN as saying.
“So, Trump meets Alaska’s governor in his airplane and agrees to push through a goldmine that had been stopped because it will devastate salmon habitat. Salmon carry entire ecosystems on their backs. Gold over life, literally,” said environmental activist Naomi Klein in her Twitter feed.
Taryn Kiekow Heimer, deputy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, went further. “Today’s landmark decision prioritizes a foreign mining corporation over the people, fish and aquatic resources of Bristol Bay,” she said in a press release.
According to Heimer the proposed project would threaten one of the world’s greatest wild salmon fisheries, which annually generates over $1.5 billion in revenues and provides over 14,000 direct and indirect jobs.
As late as 2018, EPA’s former administrator, Scott Pruitt, agreed with blocking any project on Pebble Mine, “It is my judgment at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there.”
“Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection,” said Pruitt in early 2018, before resigning from the Trump Administration in July of that year.
“Salmon have also sustained the subsistence culture of Alaska Natives for millennia. If ever there was a need to invoke 404(c), it is to protect Bristol Bay’s waters from the proposed Pebble Mine,” stated Heimer.
Adding, “The EPA has abandoned science, American jobs, and the people and communities of Bristol Bay and has shown once again that – in this administration – politics trumps people.”