The Obama administration didn't wage war just on coal. In addition to that hydrocarbon, the Environmental Protection Agency took aim at copper, gold, and another element called molybdenum. But under Trump, the government may make peace with the Periodic Table.
The EPA settled a lawsuit with the Pebble Limited Partnership Friday, reversing a longstanding campaign to stop groundbreaking on a massive copper and gold mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay region. Promising economic news, it signals to industry leaders how Trump's EPA will function.
While the EPA and the Pebble mining company have asked the U.S. District Court in Alaska to drop the lawsuit, despite an emerging narrative, the federal agency has not given industry a free hand in the region.
"The agreement will not guarantee or prejudge a particular outcome," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stressed in a statement, "but will provide Pebble a fair process for their permit application and help steer EPA away from costly and time-consuming litigation."
Put another way, Pruitt signaled that the EPA would, you know, start following the rules. Maybe that sounds boring but it represents a radical departure from Obama-era operating procedure.
In a bold and unprecedented move, Obama's EPA issued a preemptive veto of the proposed mining project. Something like 15,000 jobs and $180 million in annual taxes, according to an IHS Global Insight Study, stayed in the ground as a result. The EPA never even gave the company a chance to make its case.
According to emails obtained by the Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act, EPA officials weren't just enforcing the law, they were coordinating with anti-mine groups to kill the mine. Months before getting involved officially, the EPA was trading emails with Alaskan tribes to coordinate the opposition.
In one Jan. 8, 2010 email, one lawyer literally asked the EPA for "suggestions, revisions or edits" to a petition asking the agency to stop the mine. Other records, WaPo reported, show the EPA accepting scientific assessments from outside groups to incorporate into their environmental review.
No doubt that charming correspondence and collusion will end under Pruitt. But oversight will not. As the Washington Examiner reported Friday, the Pebble company must still apply for a Clean Water Act from the Army Corps of Engineers. In other words, they can restart a lengthy process, one that the Alaska Dispatch News predicts might not even be finished before 2020.
No doubt a lengthy fight is still looming. But for the first time, all parties involved will know that the EPA will at least be fair.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.