Opponents of the Pebble Mine found a gift Tuesday on Twitter: Donald Trump Jr. declared he’s against the mine.
“The headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chances with,” the president’s first-born son tweeted.
“The Pebble mine issue saga is so filled with surprises and twists and turns,” said Tim Bristol, director of SalmonState, who has fought the proposed mine for years, previously for Trout Unlimited.
Trump Jr. has fished and hunted in the region. There’s always been talk in the anti-Pebble coalition about reaching out to him, but Bristol said he doesn’t know why Trump Jr. decided to speak out now.
“I guess this was one of those things where the place did its magic, right?” Bristol said. “He caught fish, he saw the brown bears, he saw how many people depend upon the renewable resource and decided to come out and say something now. It just really speaks to the power of the place.”
Soon after Trump Jr.’s tweet came out, Sen. Dan Sullivan expressed his own doubts and said he’s raising the issue with the Trump administration, too. In an emailed response to press inquiries, Sullivan said he’s concerned the environmental review doesn’t fully address the risks Pebble could pose to the Bristol Bay watershed and its fishery.
“I am also continuing to make sure that Alaska’s voices are being heard on this project at the highest levels of government – including the White House,” Sullivan wrote.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers just finished its final environmental report on the proposed gold and copper mine upstream from Bristol Bay. A final decision on the federal permit for the mine is expected in weeks or months. All signs had pointed to a green light for Pebble. The Trump administration removed a block on the mine that President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency installed. And the Corps concluded the mine won’t diminish salmon runs. News of that sent the stock price of Pebble’s parent company soaring.
But Tuesday, a pair of tweets from people close to the White House inspired new hope for mine opponents. The first came from Nick Ayers, former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence.
Ayers said he hopes the president will direct the EPA to veto the Pebble mine. He said the mine would harm America’s greatest fishery. And Ayers wrote, he believes the president will block it.
Then Trump Jr. retweeted Ayers, adding his own anti-Pebble statement.
Tim Bristol said he doesn’t know what prompted Ayers’ statement, but he’s happy to see it.
“Who knows? Maybe this administration is still on a track to do the right thing through the Environmental Protection Agency,” Bristol said.
The EPA has the authority in the Clean Water Act to veto Pebble’s permit, even if the Army Corps grants it. Democrats in the U.S. House are also trying to block the mine through a government spending bill.
Pebble opponents hope the tweets are trial balloons from the White House, or at least a sign that they have allies who have the president’s ear.
Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole says Trump Jr. and Ayers are wrong. He cites the environmental report concluding the mine won’t harm the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. And, Heatwole said in an email, Pebble remains confident the president won’t interfere with the legal permitting process.