When dealing with environmental issues, policymakers and environmentalists typically opt to reach solutions that create an efficient outcome from both an economic and a conservationist standpoint. The Trump administration, however, has shown a complete disregard for anything that does not further capitalist ventures.
Located off the pristine southwestern coast of Alaska, Bristol Bay is home to 56 million sockeye salmon—roughly half the world’s total population. Each year, this fishing industry employs 14,000 people and generates $480 million worth of revenue annually.
The headwaters of the major rivers flowing into Bristol Bay also possess gold and copper minerals estimated to be worth $300 billion, according to an article from CNN. For this reason, Northern Dynasty Minerals—a Canadian mining company—has been pining over this area for the past 15 years.
A three-year peer reviewed scientific study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency on the area concluded that a mine “would result in complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources,” according to CNN. It is clear that mining in this area would be detrimental and should not be tolerated.
Former President Barack Obama enacted the Clean Water Rule shortly after this study, establishing basic protocol for regulating pollution in American water. This action undermining this piece of legislation by the Trump administration is unacceptable and demonstrates ignorance on imperative environmental issues.
On May 1, under the new Trump administration, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership Tom Collier to discuss withdrawing environmental protections on Bristol Bay. An email released by CNN revealed that the EPA rescinded the environmental protection put in place by the Obama administration hours after the meeting.
At a glance, the tradeoff costs of Bristol Bay may seem simple—$300 billion to $500 billion worth of minerals vastly outweighs the $480 million worth of annual fishing revenue. This, however, does not account for the many other economic costs of this decision—both monetary and non-monetary.
From a strictly financial viewpoint, the number of United States jobs lost from this decision is not accurately accounted for. Depleting the sockeye salmon population will inevitably cause 14,000 fishermen and women to be out of jobs, as well as restaurant and market owners who sell fish to consumers, fishing stores that sell equipment to fishermen and women and even truck drivers who transport fish. Removing one aspect of the economy affects the cycle as a whole, similar to taking out one aspect of the sockeye salmon ecosystem.
There are costs that cannot be given a price in this decision as well. Bristol Bay has a huge cultural significance among native Alaskans—generations have been fishing from this bay to provide food for their families for the past 4,000 years. There is no price tag that can properly account for destroying a lifestyle that has been intact for thousands of years.
Building this mine would cause irreversible losses, according to the EPA. The act of driving Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon population to extinction is incomparable to any amount of money that a mine would generate.
The Trump Administration’s greed as well as the political corruption the EPA faces is astounding. The revenue created from this mine will temporarily make some individuals wealthy, however, the destruction to the environment will be detrimental for generations to come. While the growth of our economy is important, we must use scarce resources in an efficient manner so we can be considerate of the future of our environment.