Thursday, March 09, 2017

Disputed Alaskan Pebble Mine could find renewed hope under Trump, but still faces challenges

New York Times map; mine site lies in two watersheds
The controversial Pebble Mine project in Alaska that has been in the works for years, but until recently was thought to be all but dead, might now have a chance at a comeback with Donald Trump in the White House, Tim Sohn reports for The New Yorker. In 2014 Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian mining company, marked the location of about 1,300 exploratory holes revealing huge deposits of copper, gold, and molybdenum worth potentially hundreds of billions of dollars.

The project, located "right near the headwaters of some of Bristol Bay’s major salmon rivers," has "encountered stiff opposition from local fishermen, Alaskan Native groups, and their environmental and political allies around the country," Sohn writes. "Early last year, the combination of bad PR, spooked investors, declining copper prices, logistical and infrastructural challenges, unresolved court battles, and a proposed intervention by the Environmental Protection Agency seemed to have rendered Pebble an extreme long shot. Northern Dynasty’s stock, worth twenty-one dollars a share five years earlier, bottomed out at twenty-one cents."

"On Nov. 9, the day after Donald Trump won, Northern Dynasty’s share price jumped twenty-five per cent; by early February of this year, it had more than quadrupled in value," Sohn writes. "Soon the company was being touted as a virtual sure thing in investor newsletters and chat rooms—'Trump’s gold' became a popular refrain." While "Republicans in Congress have long seen Pebble as a casualty of the EPA’s regulatory overreach, the Trump Administration has made no public statements concerning the mine, nor has it had any direct contact with Northern Dynasty."

“Even if EPA stands down and a major investor comes on board, the mine still faces a daunting level of local activism and opposition," Sohn writes. Tim Bristol, the executive director of the Alaskan conservation group SalmonState, told him, “Pebble does not have an EPA problem. They have an Alaska problem. It’s the development project that Alaskans love to hate.”

The mine is unpopular in Alaska, and only getting more so, Sohn writes. Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, "has spoken out against the mine, and the GOP-dominated state legislature has grown increasingly skeptical—a particularly important development, since a 2014 ballot measure, supported by two-thirds of voters, gave it veto power over any mine proposal in Bristol Bay."

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