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Trump Pushed for Mining Project That Could Destroy Alaska Salmon Ecosystems, Despite EPA Opposition

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Salmon swim in the Naknek River in the Bristol Bay Borough of Alaska. Natalie Fobes / Corbis Documentary / Getty Images Plus

By Jon Queally

"Gold over life, literally."

That was the succinct and critical reaction of Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein to reporting on Friday that President Donald Trump had personally intervened — after a meeting with Alaska's Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy on Air Force One in June — to withdraw the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) opposition to a gold mining project in the state that the federal government's own scientists have acknowledged would destroy native fisheries and undermine the state's fragile ecosystems.


Based on reporting by CNN that only emerged Friday evening, the key developments happened weeks ago after Trump's one-on-one meeting with Dunleavy — who has supported the copper and gold Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay despite the opposition of conservationists, Indigenous groups, salmon fisheries experts, and others.

CNN reports:

In 2014, the project was halted because an EPA study found that it would cause "complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources" in some areas of Bristol Bay. The agency invoked a rarely used provision of the Clean Water Act that works like a veto, effectively banning mining on the site.

"If that mine gets put in, it would ... completely devastate our region," Gayla Hoseth, second chief of the Curyung Tribal Council and a Bristol Bay Native Association director, told CNN. "It would not only kill our resources, but it would kill us culturally."

When the internal announcement was made by Trump political appointees that the agency was dropping its opposition, which came one day after the Trump-Dunleavy meeting, sources told CNN it came as a "total shock" to some of the top EPA scientists who were planning to oppose the project on environmental grounds. Sources for the story, the news outlet noted, "asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution."

According to CNN:

Four EPA sources with knowledge of the decision told CNN that senior agency officials in Washington summoned scientists and other staffers to an internal videoconference on June 27, the day after the Trump-Dunleavy meeting, to inform them of the agency's reversal. The details of that meeting are not on any official EPA calendar and have not previously been reported.
Those sources said the decision disregards the standard assessment process under the Clean Water Act, cutting scientists out of the process.
The EPA's new position on the project is the latest development in a decade-long battle that has pitted environmentalists, Alaskan Natives and the fishing industry against pro-mining interests in Alaska.

Responding to Klein's tweet, fellow author and activist Bill McKibben — long a colleague of hers at 350.org — expressed similar contempt.

"This is one of the world's most beautiful places, with a thriving salmon run, and now we'll get some ... gold," McKibben tweeted. Trump, he added, is "President Midas."

After being told that the decision was made, one EPA inside told CNN, "I was dumbfounded. We were basically told we weren't going to examine anything. We were told to get out of the way and just make it happen."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.