The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week warned that the proposed Pebble project — a vast gold and copper mine near the headwaters of Alaska's Bristol Bay — was impossible to build without causing significant damage to the region's pristine waters and salmon fishery.
The Corps stopped short of halting the mine but found the developer, the Pebble Limited Partnership, was unlikely to meet the level of mitigation that would be required under the Clean Water Act to offset the impact on wetlands.
The Trump administration has now done what the previous administration would not — it gave the proposed Pebble project full consideration under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). While the previous administration pre-judged the project with an unprecedented preemptive veto, the Trump U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and all cooperating agencies have given it a full review.
It is time for President Donald Trump to be the decider. Given an already strong conservation record, President Trump should instruct his agencies to declare the Pebble project unworkable.
I am a miner and a fisherman. I am also a dedicated conservationist who believes that we have a duty as conservatives to leave this great land better than we found it. I am also a staunch supporter of the president and his policies.
Donald Trump has been an underappreciated champion for American conservation. It is a mission that fits well with his Make America Great focus and the understanding that economic development and conservation are not mutually exclusive.
The Pebble mine is not such a project. The president should recognize that allowing a foreign mining company to extract America's riches and despoil its landscape is incompatible with his vision for the nation.
While history does not always give credit where it is due, Republicans have a long record of protecting the environment. Republican President Abraham Lincoln issued the first public land protections in 1864. Republican President Ulysses S. Grant established the first national park in 1872. From 1901 to 1909, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt designated five national parks and signed the Antiquities Act into law. And Republican President Richard Nixon, who was responsible for the National Environmental Policy Act and created the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and approved the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.
President Trump carries on this tradition, recently signing a major conservation package and the Great American Outdoors Act, which provides permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and gives revenue to maintain national parks and other well-loved public facilities.
Trump has been brutally frank when it comes to unworkable environmental policies and international agreements that would reduce America’s competitiveness or not achieve the promised aims. I support that approach because we should not waste time with empty promises. At the same time, I have encouraged the president to harness the power of the market to address climate change and invest in innovation to protect America’s future.
I have also spoken to the president about the need to protect the land for future generations of Americans, including critical habitats such as Alaska’s Bristol Bay, home to the largest wild sockeye salmon run in the world. The Pebble deposit is located between Lake Clark and Lake Illiamna, which feed Bristol Bay’s Nushagak and Kvichak rivers.
I have fished the “Nush” and it lives up to its reputation as one of the world’s most productive salmon rivers, supporting all five species of Pacific salmon. Up to 60 million salmon return home every spring to spawn in these wild rivers. They are simply irreplaceable.
It is also true that the area contains enormous low-grade copper and gold deposits. While it is often possible to conduct industrial activities like mining near precious natural environments, this is not the case with the Pebble project.
I have run a precious metals company for decades and understand the limitations and risks associated with the extraction and leaching process. And I am not alone; four of the world’s biggest mining companies previously sought to develop the Pebble deposit but ultimately walked away from hundreds of millions of dollars in sunk costs because they concluded it couldn’t be done safely.
The company now pursuing Pebble is Canada’s Northern Dynasty — a foreign company that has never mined an ounce of gold and should not be allowed to plunder Alaska’s pristine landscape or remove America’s precious minerals.
While I support economic development and job creation, I believe in America first. Sending American gold and copper profits to Canadian shareholders in exchange for a couple thousand mining jobs at the risk of Bristol Bay’s commercial fishery with its $1.5 billion in annual income and 14,500 workers is a poor trade.
Sportfishing brings another $75 million a year to Alaska's economy and supports jobs from Anchorage to Dillingham, the region's hub. The existing economy is not only sustainable but mutually exclusive with a mine as large as Pebble.
As a conservative, I believe decisions are best made at the local level. In July, a statewide poll found 62 percent of Alaskans oppose the Pebble project, including 48 percent who strongly oppose it. The Bristol Bay Native Corp., the region’s largest landowner whose Yup’ik Eskimo, Alutiiq, and Athabaskan shareholders have called the place home for thousands of years, has opposed the mine since it was first proposed 15 years ago.
As a conservative, President Trump should recognize the moral imperative in stopping the Pebble project. Our forebearers handed these natural resources down through generations and entrusted us with their care. President Trump can fulfill that responsibility and secure his place alongside America’s other great Republican conservation presidents by protecting Bristol Bay and declaring the Pebble project unworkable.
Andy Sabin is CEO of Sabin Metal Corporation, the largest independently owned precious metals refiner in North America, a philanthropist, and a member of the ConservAmerica executive board.