Trump Admin Reverses Obama-Era Restrictions on Pebble Mine Near Alaska's Largest Salmon Nursery
This is a sharp about-face for the U.S. government, after the Obama-administration cited environmental concerns and the threat to the spawning ground of the region's prized sockeye salmon when it put the brakes on the project in 2012, and again when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expressed concerns about the salmon in 2014.
This new move represents the latest salvo in the Trump administration's thorough and systematic dismantling of environmental efforts and regulations from the previous administration. When it comes to the Pebble Mine, as The Washington Post reported, a final environmental analysis issued Friday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that the mine — which targets a deposit of gold, copper and other minerals worth up to $500 billion — "would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers" in the Bristol Bay watershed, which supports the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery.
Opponents of Pebble Mine criticized the review process as rushed, flawed, and favorable to the mine developer, as the Anchorage Daily News reported.
In a joint statement, Alannah Hurley with United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Norm Van Vactor with Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., Ralph Andersen with Bristol Bay Native Association and Katherine Carscallen with Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay said the final review "completely fails to adequately assess the impacts of Pebble on Bristol Bay's waters, salmon, and people," according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The mine will be located in two watersheds that feed fish-spawning rivers. Opponents say traces of heavy metals and other contaminants left from the mining operation pose risks if they leach into groundwater or if dams holding back the tailings fail in an earthquake, as The New York Times reported.
Opposition to the mine has been widespread, both in the region and statewide, for nearly two decades, with concerns about environmental damage and the potential harm to the area's salmon, which are the main traditional subsistence food for many of the Native Alaskans in the region and the crux of both sport-fishing and commercial fishing in the area, according to The New York Times.
The open-pit mine calls for a large dammed area to trap the tailings from mining operations that would be toxic to the fish. It also calls for the 80 new miles of road to carry the concentrated tailings away to Cook Inlet. Additionally, the mining company wants to build a 165-mile natural gas pipeline for a generating plant to power the operation.
According to the Corps, the operations would permanently destroy more than 2,200 acres of wetlands and waters, and 105 miles of streams. The EPA indicated earlier this year that it would not block the project at this point, as The Washington Post reported.
Opponents have argued that the environmental impact statement was not rigorous enough, as they highlighted hazardous risks, including the potential for a tailings dam failure that could contaminate waterways used by spawning fish and harm the Bristol Bay fishery, which employs about 15,000 people. They also note that Alaska is the most seismically active state in the nation, and critics said the Corps had not taken sufficient account of the risk of earthquakes or volcanic activity, and that its analysis of the dam designs was inadequate, particularly since a few of the dams would be hundreds of feet high, as The New York Times reported.
Taryn Kiekow Heimer, who leads the the Natural Resources Defense Council's effort to stop the project, told The Washington Post that the administration's push to greenlight a massive project that is opposed by neighboring Indigenous communities amounts to environmental injustice.
"It's especially embarrassing for the government and appalling given the current social context we are in," she said of the accelerated approval process. "It's just another example of the entrenched and systemic racism that this government is showing to people of color and indigenous people in particular."
The Pebble Mine, like logging in Alaska' Tongass forest, the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Dakota Access pipeline, is a gift to industry that the Trump administration has tried to fast track. All those projects could be reversed if a Democratic administration takes office in January, according to The Washington Post.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.