The outgoing administration is pushing through approval of corporate projects over the opposition of environmental groups and tribal communities.
By Eric Lipton
In Arizona, the Forest Service is preparing to sign off on the transfer of federal forest land — considered sacred by a neighboring Native American tribe — to allow construction of one of the nation’s largest copper mines.
In Utah, the Interior Department may grant final approval as soon as next week to a team of energy speculators targeting a remote spot inside an iconic national wilderness area — where new energy leasing is currently banned — so they can start drilling into what they believe is a huge underground supply of helium.
In northern Nevada, the department is close to granting final approval to construct a sprawling open-pit lithium mine on federal land that sits above a prehistoric volcano site.
And in the East, the Forest Service intends to take a key step next month toward allowing a natural gas pipeline to be built throughthe Jefferson National Forest in Virginia and West Virginia, at one point running underneath the Appalachian Trail.
These projects, and others awaiting action in the remaining weeks of the Trump administration, reflect the intense push by the Interior Department, which controls 480 million acres of public lands, and the Forest Service, which manages another 193 million acres, to find ways to increase domestic energy and mining production, even in the face of intense protests by environmentalists and other activists.
When he takes office on Jan. 20, Mr. Biden, who has chosen a Native American — Representative Deb Haaland, Democrat of New Mexico — to lead the Interior Department, will still have the ability to reshape, slow or even block certain projects.
Some, like the South Dakota uranium mine, will require further approvals, or face lawsuits seeking to stop them, like the planned helium drilling project in Utah. But others, like the lithium mine in Nevada, will have the final federal permit needed before construction can begin, and will be hard for the next administration to stop.
Whether they are the final word or not, the last-minute actions are just the latest evidence of how the far-reaching shift in regulatory policy under Mr. Trump has altered the balance between environmental concerns and business, giving substantial new weight to corporate interests.
Mr. Trump chose former industry executives to run major federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, and industry executives and lobbyists who cycled in and out of government positions were granted substantial influence in setting regulations.
For four years, Mr. Trump’s team and its allies have raced to roll back federal rules intended to protect federal lands and the nation’s air and water, as well as other safety rules in agencies across the government. The changes were often made in direct response to requests from lobbyists and company executives who were major donors to Mr. Trump and frequent patrons at his hotels and resorts.
The final push on the mining and energy projects has come in part from senior Trump administration officials, including the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, a steel industry investor before joining Mr. Trump’s cabinet.
Mr. Ross’s calendar shows at least three appointments with top executives at Rio Tinto, the Australia-based mining giant backing the Resolution Copper mine planned for construction in Arizona next to the San Carlos Apache reservation. Mr. Ross also made a trip to the mine site this year.
“This is a disaster,” said Wendsler Nosie Sr., a former San Carlos Apache tribal leader who in recent weeks has been camping out at the proposed mine site inside the Tonto National Forest to protest the pending decision.
Backers of these projects say they are committed to minimizing the effect on public lands, sacred Native American sites and wildlife. ………. what bullshit! rŌbert editorial