The opposition to a giant mine in the heart of Alaska’s Bristol Bay — a land teeming with fat bears and the world’s largest run of sockeye salmon — is formidable.
Ecologists, bear biologists, Bristol Bay locals, tribes, the majority of Alaskans, and the Obama Administration’s EPA have opposed the plan to build a colossal mining district in the region’s watershed. They’ve now been joined by an odd bedfellow, the conservative, left-bashing Donald Trump Jr., who recently posted a misleading, far-right video on Twitter about an unproven coronavirus drug and shoots megafauna as a hobby.
Trump Jr. tweeted on Tuesday that “As a sportsman who has spent plenty of time in the area I agree 100%. The headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chances with.”
On untrammeled wetlands brimming with streams, the mine would require the construction of a major transportation corridor, multiple power stations, a 188-mile gas pipeline, wastewater treatment plants, and a new port, along with a mine itself that could be some 2,000 feet deep.
In the Bristol Bay region, research has found that different zones within the watershed are highly productive during different years. This means the wealth of this flourishing fishery is largely due to the diversity of its salmon-rich streams and rivers. In particular years, disparate rivers will naturally “flicker on” or “flicker off.” So damaging one region of the watershed can have outsized, lasting impacts.
In 2014, the “could result in significant and unacceptable adverse effects on ecologically important streams, wetlands, lakes, and ponds and the fishery areas they support.” At the time, the agency hampered the potential mine with restrictions, halting the project.
But in 2017, the Trump administration gave the mining proposal — and the Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty — new life. Former EPA chief and now coal-lobbyist Scott Pruitt in 2017. Pruitt promptly granted the derailed project another shot by allowing a formal environmental review process to proceed, which is the path leading to a potential mining permit. In late July, the federal agency responsible (the Army Corps of Engineers) for the review gave Northern Dynasty the news it needed: In its much anticipated environmental review, the Corps found the mine wouldn’t have a “measurable effect on fish numbers and result in long-term changes to the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay.”
“It’s divorced from what the science says.”
Yet, the mine’s many opponents disagree, vehemently, and emphasize the Corps have overlooked or ignored the clear, adverse impacts of a mining district in the Bristol Bay watershed.
“It’s divorced from what the science says,” Alaskan bear-viewing guide Drew Hamilton, who is the former assistant manager of Alaska’s bear-filled McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge, told Mashable.
“How much more bad science do we have to put up with?” asked Bristol Bay’s Norm Van Vactor.
The Corps will now make a final decision on whether to grant Northern Dynasty a mining permit later in July or early August (though the project will still face a slew of lawsuits and other big hurdles before potentially becoming a reality). Until then, however, the EPA can still step in to nix the project. Trump Jr. retweeted support for this possibility from GOP strategist Nick Ayers, the former Chief of Staff to Vice President Mike Pence. “Like millions of conservationists and sportsmen, I am hoping @realDonaldTrump will direct @EPA to block the Pebble mine in Bristol Bay,” Ayers tweeted.
The left and right alike oppose the colossal mine.
“How does helping this underfunded Canadian company make America great again?” asked Joel Reynolds, Western Director and Senior Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
“It is absolutely preposterous,” Reynolds told Mashable.