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Trump Administration's Environmental Review Greenlights Gold Mine In Alaska

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There was another environmental reversal by the Trump administration today. The Army Corps of Engineers now says a major copper and gold mine in southwest Alaska would not harm wild salmon runs. The Obama administration had blocked the project, and it still faces challenges, as Liz Ruskin of Alaska Public Media reports.

LIZ RUSKIN, BYLINE: Fishermen and Native groups have been fighting to stop the Pebble Mine for more than 15 years. Mine chief executive Tom Collier says an umpire has finally stepped in.

TOM COLLIER: And the umpire in this case is the Corps of Engineers. And the Corps of Engineers has looked at this rigorously and has determined that the project will not damage the fishery.

RUSKIN: The agency's final environmental report concludes the Pebble Mine likely would not have a measurable effect on fish numbers. Pebble opponents point out the report also says the mine will destroy fish streams and damage thousands of acres of wetlands at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, home of the world's largest wild sockeye salmon harvest. Dan Cheyette is a vice president at Bristol Bay Native Corporation.

DAN CHEYETTE: This mine, this one particular mine just has no place in Bristol Bay.

RUSKIN: The Obama administration nearly killed the project, so Pebble's revival is deeply disappointing to commercial fishermen like Melanie Brown. Her Native ancestors relied on the region's salmon for centuries. Brown says their communities were nearly wiped out by the 1918 flu pandemic, but harvesting salmon sustained them.

MELANIE BROWN: People still live that lifestyle out there. It's real. There's a lot of reliance on salmon. And it's worth much more than just thinking of it as a resource.

RUSKIN: The Army Corps is expected to issue a permit for the mine soon, but Pebble would still need the permission of landowners near the mine including, Alaska Native corporations who are fighting the project. Mine executive Tom Collier says he expects they'll change their minds when the economic benefits become clear. Then there's another possible hurdle. If Democrat Joe Biden wins the White House in November, Pebble could be on the rocks again. The Environmental Protection Agency has the power to veto a Clean Water Act permit even after it's issued. For NPR News, I'm Liz Ruskin in Anchorage. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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