“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”
—Franklin D. Roosevelt
What a difference a year makes. Just over a year ago, the proposed Pebble Mine at the headwaters of the world’s largest wild salmon run located in Bristol Bay, Alaska was on its deathbed. Then the regime change led to a directive from new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt last May to withdraw protections for the watershed against certain mining activities.
On Jan. 26, Pruitt reversed that May ruling, saying now the EPA would hold the Pebble mine permit to the higher Clean Water Act standard originally imposed by the Obama administration, seemingly putting a big hurdle in front of the mine’s progress and scope.
Head spinning yet? Such are the plot twists of this reality TV drama that seems to be a mash of Shakespeare, Monty Python and The Twilight Zone.
Reaction to Pruitt’s reversal was swift and all over the place. Several big environmental groups quickly expressed surprise and proclaimed a hard-won victory in this 20-year battle against what would be one of the world’s largest open pit copper mines. Others voiced cautious optimism, while still others expressed doubts.
FDR’s prescience still rings true. That Pruitt publicly said the agency would reinstate the stricter guidelines for approval of any permit Pebble files was indeed a surprising move. But to those who have followed the issue closely, questions immediately arose. Since when has this administration done an about-face for the environment? Pruitt’s announcement does nothing to stop the permit approval process begun when Pebble Limited Partnership filed a permit for a down-scaled mining operation in December.
More likely, this proclamation serves two political purposes. First, re-stating the EPA’s original mission may be a form of greenwashing to quell some of the enormous opposition (more than 2.2 million public comments) to the planned mine. Second, it gives the administration a legal leg to stand on if/when it approves the Pebble permit. “Hey, we held the permit to the higher standard…and it passed.”
Some recent good news? State financial directors for both California and New York have urged the mine’s current financial backer to divest $150 million earmarked for the federal permit process. That kind of pressure from states that have invested in First Quantum Minerals, Ltd. could force it to back out, which would leave the Pebble Mine too financially strapped to secure the federal permit alone.
Stay tuned for more plot twists.[For more information and to make your voice heard, check out Save Bristol Bay.]
Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.