An intraparty squabble over the fate of the Pebble Mine has broken out on the eve of the Republican National Convention as President Trump comes under pressure from members of his inner circle — including Donald Trump Jr. — to kill the billion-dollar project in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
Trump supporters and free-market groups mobilized Sunday behind the Pebble Mine, urging the president to place principles over politics by allowing the project to finish the permitting process instead of shutting it down at the behest of political allies, as the Obama administration did in 2014.
“What we’re up against are some elitist and wealthy hunters and fishermen that want to have an area the size of Ohio that is state and private land, not federal land, declared by the federal government to be their private playground, and that’s just outrageous,” said Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier. “We just need to make sure that’s not how decisions are made in America.”
The partnership seeks to activate the president’s base during the RNC with an ad on digital and television outlets, including Fox News, praising Mr. Trump for “restoring order to the regulatory review process, unlike the previous administration that vetoed projects that didn’t fit their politics.
“In Alaska, Obama officials blocked a project that has now finished a rigorous environmental review,” says the ad, which is slated to begin airing Tuesday. “Development that will create jobs and opportunity to native villages, provide essential minerals for our economy and coexist with Alaska’s natural habitats.”
The ad concludes, “President Trump, continue to stand tall, and don’t let politics enter the Pebble Mine review process.”
The proposed gold-copper-molybdenum mine has long been opposed by environmentalists, who cite the risk to the region’s salmon fisheries, but the Environmental Protection Agency in July 2019 lifted the Obama-era hold, allowing a review on the project’s wetlands impact to proceed.
Last month, the Army Corps of Engineers cleared the project in its Final Environmental Impact Statement. A week later, Donald Trump Jr. and Nick Ayers, former chief-of-staff to Vice President Mike Pence raised objections, with Mr. Ayers predicting that the president would order the EPA to block the project.
“Like millions of conservationists and sportsmen, I am hoping @realDonaldTrump will direct @EPA to block the Pebble mine in Bristol Bay,” tweeted Mr. Ayers on Aug. 4. “A Canadian company will unnecessarily mine the USA’s greatest fishery at a severe cost. This should be stopped and I believe @POTUS will do so!”
All that remains before the Corps signs a Record of Decision is to draw up a compensatory mitigation plan, but Politico, citing “six people familiar with the plans,” reported Saturday that the administration would use the opportunity to kill the project as early as Monday.
Backers of Mr. Trump’s push to streamline and depoliticize the regulatory process urged the president to stay the course.
“The president should reject this last-minute push by DC elites to dictate what happens in Alaska,” said American Energy Alliance president Tom Pyle, who headed the Trump energy transition. “That is how the Obama-Biden administration operated, not this one. The EIS has made it clear that with mitigation, this project and the environment can coexist.”
He was joined by a host of conservative groups, including the Congressional Western Caucus, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Limited Government, Americans for Tax Reform, National Mining Association, Americans for Prosperity, and others.
“Pebble Mine has met the regulatory requirements,” tweeted JunkScience’s Steve Milloy, a member of the Trump EPA transition team. “What opponents want to do is to keep moving the goalposts back.”
Mr. Trump said at an Aug. 6 press briefing that he would “certainly listen to both sides,” adding that his son “has some very strong opinions and my son is very much an environmentalist.”
Afterward, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a statement calling for “regulatory and permitting stability in Alaska,” while Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell said “science, rather than uninformed opinion, should direct important decisions on natural resource development.
“I am disappointed to see Donald Trump, Jr. endorse the illegitimate and thoroughly discredited Obama EPA position on the Pebble Mine, rather than the conclusion of one of the most exhaustive Environmental Impact Statements ever undertaken,” said Mr. Ebell, who led the Trump EPA transition team.
Environmentalists have called the Bristol Bay “the wrong place for any mine to be built,” noting that the watershed includes the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, while the Pebble Partnership has countered that the mine’s footprint will take up just 5.3 square miles of the 40,000-square-mile region.
If Mr. Trump deep-sixes the mine, Mr. Collier said it would send a warning to developers and discourage U.S. projects. The Pebble Partnership has sunk about $1 billion into the project over 15 years.
“That’s the reason that the conservative community across the board is up in arms about this,” Mr. Collier said, adding, “Nobody is going to put up that kind of money if at the 11th hour an administration can because of political influences kill the project.”