Opinion: Alaska’s on the front lines of Trump’s war against the environment

The site of the proposed Pebble Mine in the watershed of Alaska's salmon-rich Bristol Bay.
(Los Angeles Times)

The Trump administration took two major steps this week to advance projects in Alaska that pose dire threats to the environment, shrugging off the objections of people — including native tribes — most at risk while aligning with foreign-based corporations seeking to mine copper and gold in remote regions of the nation’s most undeveloped state.

Which, of course, surprises no one. When it comes to environmental justice, there is no balance in the Trump administration’s scales.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday said the controversial Pebble Mine proposal to extract copper, gold and other minerals from within the Bristol Bay watershed — creating the largest such mine in North America — would not pose a significant risk to the region’s $1.4-billion salmon and tourism industries.

It can be hard to remember amid the coronavirus pandemic and President Trump’s arrogant incompetence that the Trump Era is one massive grift.

That decision conflicts with earlier findings by the Obama administration, which had stalled the project over concerns about its environmental impact — and that impact will be significant.


The project, which has changed in scope over time, would extend for some 13 miles and include a new 270-megawatt power plant and natural gas line, 82 miles of new roadways, and storage facilities and dredging to create a port at Iliamna Bay big enough to handle the vessels that will carry the mine’s minerals to market.

Yes, that’s huge.

The Corps’ decision sets up yet another legal battle over President Trump’s endless and often extra-legal efforts to subvert decades of federal environmental laws and regulations, so the fight’s not over. But the dogged persistence of the administration’s efforts to despoil vast swaths of nature poses a daunting challenge for environmental defenders.

It doesn’t matter whether Trump accepts a loss, as long as he leaves.

The Bureau of Land Management this week also approved the construction of a 211-mile road across portions of the Gates of the Arctic National Park to connect the remote Ambler Mining District on northwest Alaska with the famed Dalton Highway, a 414-mile road that runs along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to Fairbanks.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is finalizing plans to allow roads and logging in more than half of the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest in southwest Alaska, exempting the massive temperate forest from the so-called “roadless rule” adopted two decades ago to prohibit road construction and timber harvesting within 58.5 million acres of National Forest System lands.

So, what does Trump have against Alaska?

Nothing, really. What he has in his sights are efforts to preserve natural expanses from the ravages of development and industrialized mining and lumbering, which by definition harm the natural environment and pose significant risks to a wide range of animal and plant species. All for the chimera of “creating jobs.”

There’s nothing like a massive hole in the ground, open-pit tailings ponds and the risk of toxic mine effluent leaking into Bristol Bay to shore up the salmon fishing and tourism industries that already account for some 14,000 jobs.

Pebble Mine would create about 1,000 jobs. Note the imbalance of economic impacts. The administration is willing to risk existing economies for the sake of relative handful of jobs in a favored industry. Oh, and corporate profits for said industry, which for this administration always takes precedence.