Trump Administration is Reopening Case of Highly Controversial Mine in Alaska

The Trump administration is taking a second look at one of the most controversial proposed mining projects in recent U.S. history — a massive copper, gold, and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, the world’s most productive salmon ecosystem.

Under the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a determination that the proposed Pebble Mine would imperil Bristol Bay sockeye salmon, the largest salmon run in the world. This year, an estimated 41 million sockeye salmon are expected to return to spawning grounds in the rivers and lakes running into Bristol Bay, of which 29 million will be harvested by Alaskan fishermen.

Bristol Bay's Nushagak River, which could be threatened by the proposed Pebble Mine project.

Bristol Bay's Nushagak River, which could be threatened by the proposed Pebble Mine project. RYAN PETERSON/WILD SALMON CENTER

A broad coalition of fishermen, indigenous Alaskan groups, environmentalists, and local business people have opposed the Pebble Mine, which is being proposed by a subsidiary of the Canadian firm Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. Until recent months, the project was widely considered dead. But now, the EPA, led by Administrator Scott Pruitt, has proposed withdrawing the Obama administration decision against Pebble Mine, opening the possibility that the project could be revived. 

If built, the Pebble Mine would be the world’s second-largest open-pit copper and gold mine and would “include the world’s largest earthen dam, to hold back 10 billion tons of toxic tailings and contaminated water,” according to the Wild Salmon Center, a conservation group. The tailings impoundment would sit just north of Iliamna Lake, whose waters eventually flow into Bristol Bay.

“The facts haven’t changed. The science hasn’t changed. The opposition hasn’t changed,” said Taryn Kiekow Heimer, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The fact that it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time hasn’t changed. But the politics have changed.”