Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

Donald Trump Jr. tweeted opposition Tuesday to a massive copper and gold mining project in Alaska that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the final stages of deciding whether to permit.

Trump Jr. commented on and retweeted a message from Nick Ayers, former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence. Ayers had posted: “Like millions of conservationists and sportsmen, I am hoping @realDonaldTrump will direct @EPA to block the Pebble mine in Bristol Bay. 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!”

Trump Jr. retweeted the post, adding his own comment: “As a sportsman who has spent plenty of time in the area I agree 100%. The headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chances with. #PebbleMine”

Mine developer Pebble Limited Partnership said in a statement the president’s son and Ayers are “wrong.”

However, United Tribes of Bristol Bay said the comments from Trump Jr. show "just how valuable Bristol Bay is to the nation."

(Related: President Trump says he'll listen to both sides on Pebble Mine)

"People on all sides of the political spectrum agree on this basic truth: Bristol Bay is a national treasure that needs to be protected from threats like the Pebble Mine," the group's executive director, Alannah Hurley, said in a statement. "It’s time for the EPA to veto this project and protect this world class fishery."

Last week, the corps issued a final environmental impact statement for the proposed mining project near the Bristol Bay watershed area in Alaska.

The corps’ analysis lays the groundwork for a final decision giving the go-ahead to key federal permits for the Pebble mine. The corps stated, “Under normal operations, the Alternatives would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers and result in long-term changes to the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay.”

A decision on the permits is due at least 30 days after the issuance of the environmental statement.

Also Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan told the Anchorage Daily News that he and his staff are increasingly concerned that the final environmental impact statement "may not adequately address the issues identified in the draft (review) regarding the full risks of the project as proposed to the Bristol Bay watershed and 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 said.

For decades, there has been controversy and heated debate surrounding the mine’s development.

If created, Pebble Mine would be the largest mine in North America. The project is estimated to be worth between $345 billion and $500 billion in minerals, including around 70 million ounces of gold, 50 billion pounds of copper, and 3.3 billion pounds of molybdenum.

However, the mine’s creation could also potentially damage the Bristol Bay watershed ecosystem, putting the area’s abundant salmon population in danger. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Bristol Bay produces about half the world's sockeye salmon.

The region’s fishing industry is estimated to be worth around $300 million per year. In 2019 alone, commercial fishermen harvested 56.5 million salmon there. Alaska Native tribes in the region have also relied upon the salmon for thousands of years.

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Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today and a longtime Alaska journalist.