Trump administration review of Obama-era environmental regulation near natural monuments may prove a boon for extraction industries and a pain for conservationists.
Less than a year ago, President Obama designated a new national monument in the eastern Mojave Desert as part of his administration’s broader efforts to keep extractive industries out of environmentally sensitive areas before Donald Trump took office.
The 20,920-acre monument surrounds an open-pit gold mining operation at the southern end of the Castle Mountains. This designation allowed Newcastle Gold Ltd. (TSX: NCA) to proceed with plans to excavate 10 million tons of ore from its 8,300-acre Castle Gold project through 2025.
However, with the election of Donald Trump as president, many Obama-era regulations are coming under scrutiny. In a plan delivered last week to the White House, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he has suggested the president should make changes at “a handful” of monuments. Castle Mountains National Monument was not on the list of 27 sites proposed for status modification or elimination.
According to a report published by the LA Times, NewCastle has been speaking to Zinke. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that Newcastle and Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) have told Zinke the designation was made without sufficient public outreach or input from the company.
NewCastle’s recommended solution is to decrease the size of Castle Mountains National Monument by 50%.
This has surprised conservationists and environmentalists to learn Newcastle’s position shifted after the Trump administration moved to roll back federal protections on many of the monuments created by previous administrations.
The LA Times reports…
“The company gave its word that the deal we struck nearly a year ago was good,” David Lamfrom, director of California and desert wildlife programs for the National Parks Conservation Assn., told the LA Times reporter. “So we’re … furious to learn that the company and its supporters have been secretly complaining that the process was unjust.”
However, George Panneton, CEO and President of NewCastle Gold was more diplomatic when asked about his company’s discussions, in a quote from the LA Times article.
“We’re more than happy to sit down with environmental groups and work out our differences,” he said. “For example, the mine could help subsidize the monument and Mojave National Preserve once it’s up and running and making a profit.”
Panneton said Newcastle plans to resume production next year.
“Under Obama, a gold mining firm was fine with a Mojave Desert monument. Under Trump, an about-face.” LA Times, August 28, 2017,