Slow news day in Alaska! Actually, the Environmental Protection Agency ensured it was an historic news day for the state, a huge moment one no matter what side of the Pebble Mine/Bristol Bay fence you’ve sat on.
The first of a plethora of reports on the news that the Bristol Bay region, one of the world’s most critical salmon habitats, will be protected and that essentially put an end to a large-scale mining project perilously close to those sacred waters, comes from the EPA itself.
On January 30, 2023, EPA issued a Final Determination under its Clean Water Act Section 404(c) authority to limit the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed as disposal sites for certain discharges of dredged or fill material associated with development of a mine at the Pebble deposit, a large ore body in southwest Alaska.
After extensive review of scientific and technical research spanning two decades, and robust stakeholder engagement, EPA has determined that certain discharges associated with developing the Pebble deposit will have unacceptable adverse effects on certain salmon fishery areas in the Bristol Bay watershed.
In the 50-year history of the Clean Water Act, EPA has used its Section 404(c) authority judiciously. This action marks the third time in 30 years, and only the fourteenth time in the history of the Clean Water Act, that EPA has used this authority. This action does not apply to any other resource development projects in the State of Alaska.
The Bristol Bay Watershed—A Critical Resource
Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, home to 25 Alaska Native villages and communities, is an area of unparalleled ecological value, with salmon diversity and productivity unrivaled anywhere in North America. The region provides high-quality, diverse, and connected aquatic habitats, from headwaters to ocean, that support abundant, genetically diverse wild Pacific salmon populations. These salmon populations have supported Alaska Native cultures for thousands of years and continue to support one of the last intact salmon-based cultures in the world.
The Bristol Bay watershed produces approximately half of the world’s Sockeye Salmon, and salmon fisheries are a huge economic driver in the region, supporting approximately 15,000 jobs annually and generating an estimated $2.2 billion in 2019 alone. These salmon populations also help to maintain the productivity of the entire ecosystem, including numerous other fish and wildlife species.
Together, the Bristol Bay watershed’s diverse and largely undisturbed aquatic habitats and productive salmon populations form the foundation of this globally significant ecological and cultural resource.
The Pebble deposit, a large, low-grade deposit containing copper-, gold-, and molybdenum-bearing minerals, is located at the headwaters of the pristine Bristol Bay watershed. The Pebble deposit underlies portions of the South Fork Koktuli River (SFK), North Fork Koktuli River (NFK,), and Upper Talarik Creek (UTC ) watersheds, which drain to two of the largest rivers in the Bristol Bay watershed, the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers.
Development of a mine at the Pebble deposit has been the subject of study for nearly two decades. EPA’s Final Determination is based on this extensive record of scientific and technical information and applies only to certain discharges of dredged or fill material associated with developing the Pebble deposit.
EPA’s Final Determination
EPA has determined that the large-scale loss of, and damage to, headwater streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources that support salmon populations in the SFK, NFK, and UTC watersheds from the discharge of dredged or fill material for the construction and routine operation of the 2020 Mine Plan described in Pebble Limited Partnership’s June 8, 2020, Clean Water Act Section 404 permit application, as well as future proposals that would have the same, similar, or greater levels of aquatic resource loss or damage will have unacceptable adverse effects on anadromous fishery areas in the these watersheds.
Discharges of dredged or fill material to construct and operate the proposed mine site alone would result in the permanent loss of approximately:
8.5 miles (13.7 km) of anadromous fish streams.
91 miles (147 km) of additional streams that support anadromous fish streams.
2,108 acres (8.5 km2) of wetlands and other waters in the SFK and NFK watersheds that support anadromous fish streams.
These discharges would also result in streamflow alterations that would adversely affect approximately 29 miles (46.7 km) of additional anadromous fish streams downstream of the mine site due to greater than 20 percent changes in average monthly streamflow.
The aquatic resources that would be lost or damaged play an important role in supporting salmon populations in the SFK, NFK, and UTC watersheds.
EPA’s Final Determination specifically:
Prohibits the specification of certain waters of the United States in the SFK and NFK watersheds as disposal sites for the discharge of dredged or fill material for the construction and routine operation of the 2020 Mine Plan. This includes future proposals to construct and operate a mine to develop the Pebble deposit with discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States anywhere at the mine site that would result in the same or greater levels of aquatic resource loss or streamflow changes as the 2020 Mine Plan.
Restricts the use for specification of certain waters of the United States in the SFK, NFK, and UTC watersheds as disposal sites for the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with future proposals to construct and operate a mine to develop the Pebble deposit with discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States that would result in adverse effects similar or greater in nature and magnitude to the adverse effects of the 2020 Mine Plan.
Why This Action Matters
By prohibiting and restricting the discharge of dredged or fill materials associated with developing the Pebble deposit in certain areas of the Bristol Bay watershed, EPA prevents unacceptable adverse effects on important wild salmon habitat, and in doing so also helps safeguard the critical Bristol Bay ecosystem.
The region’s salmon resources have supported Alaska Native cultures for thousands of years and continue to support one of the last intact salmon-based cultures in the world. Together, the Bristol Bay watershed’s largely undisturbed aquatic habitats and productive salmon populations create this globally significant ecological and cultural resource.
The streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources of the Bristol Bay watershed also provide the foundation for world-class, economically important, commercial and sport fisheries for salmon and other fishes.
And here is some reaction to the news, starting with SalmonState:
EPA protects Bristol Bay, Alaska from toxic Pebble Mine
The EPA’s Final Determination concludes a deliberative, science-based process via the Clean Water Act originally called for by Bristol Bay area Tribal governments 13 years ago. Under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, the EPA determined if the massive proposed Pebble Mine could be built and operated without destroying critical salmon-sustaining wetlands and waterways. The science laid out in the documents clearly shows the answer is “no.”
Bristol Bay is the home of the largest sockeye salmon run remaining on the planet. In 2022, Bristol Bay broke records for the third year in a row, with a return of nearly 80 million sockeye salmon.
“Today’s decision may be the most popular thing the federal government has ever done for Alaska,” said SalmonState Executive Director Tim Bristol. “Thousands of Alaskans and over a million Americans from across the political spectrum have called for protection of Bristol Bay’s one-of-kind salmon resource from massive open pit mining and today, the EPA delivered.”
“This is a victory for every single person — from Bristol Bay’s tribal citizens, commercial fisherman, sport anglers, business leaders, chefs, scientists, and so many more — who have spoken out over the years, and we thank the EPA and the Biden Administration for this well-considered, heavily documented, overwhelmingly popular move,” Bristol continued.
“These restrictions and prohibitions by EPA, coupled with the recently completed Pedro Bay conservation initiative, provides a strong sense of relief — but we will not rest until the threat of large-scale, open pit, acid waste generating mining is completely eliminated from the headwaters of Bristol Bay,” said Bristol. “This will take vision and leadership from our decision-makers, and we look forward to working with them to reach this goal.”
United Tribes of Bristol Bay
After years of effort Bristol Bay celebrates EPA’s historic action to stop Pebble
Regional organizations and residents celebrate long-sought Clean Water Act protections that will safeguard the lands and waters that have sustained Bristol Bay since time immemorial
Dillingham, Alaska — Bristol Bay Tribes, communities, Alaska Native Corporations and organizations are celebrating the news that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized 404(c) Clean Water Act protections that will stop the proposed Pebble Mine from being built at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
The EPA on January 31 published its “Final Determination” outlining prohibitions and restrictions that will prevent a large-scale mine from being developed at the Pebble deposit due to the adverse impacts such a mine would have on Bristol Bay’s people, waters, and salmon fishery. This news is decades in the making and was initiated in 2010 when Bristol Bay’s Tribes first formally petitioned the EPA to use their authority under the Clean Water Act to protect the pristine watershed.
The protections will prohibit and restrict the use of certain waters—in the South Fork Koktuli, North Fork Koktuli, and Upper Talarik Creek watersheds—in Bristol Bay as a disposal site for the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with mining at the Pebble deposit. Additionally, the Final Determination prohibits future proposals to develop a mine at the Pebble deposit which have impacts similar or greater than the mine plan denied by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2020.
The EPA’s Final Determination is a welcome decision in the region, where the vast majority of residents have long-opposed this toxic project. During Bristol Bay’s robust sockeye salmon season last summer a record number of Bristol Bay residents and Alaskans submitted comments supporting EPA finalizing permanent protections for the watershed.
Bristol Bay leaders made the following statements:
“EPA listened to our people’s call and will now protect our lands and waters for future generations. This is fantastic news for our region,” said Robin Samuelsen, board chair of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. “Bristol Bay has been fighting this mine for more than two decades, and today we celebrate that the EPA listened and took action to protect our home. Our fishery is critical to our region’s survival both economically and culturally, and this decision will enable us to continue feeding our families and the world.”
“EPA, and in particular Administrator Michael Regan, Assistant Administrator Radhika Fox, and Region 10 Administrator Casey Sixkiller, deserve credit for their thorough work and for listening to the voices of Bristol Bay throughout the process,” said Bristol Bay Native Corporation CEO Jason Metrokin.“Today is a great day for Bristol Bay, and one that many thought would never come. While the immediate threat of Pebble is behind us, BBNC will continue working to protect Bristol Bay’s salmon-based culture and economy and to create new economic opportunities across the region.”
“Under President Biden, the EPA has not only restored its commitment to science and law but truly listened to the original stewards and first peoples’ of this land. Ignored by our own state government, our Tribes petitioned the EPA 13 years ago to use its 404(c) authority to protect Bristol Bay, to protect our people,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “Today, these Clean Water Act protections provide certainty that Pebble cannot be built in Bristol Bay. On behalf of UTBB, I’d like to say quyana, chin’an, thank you to the EPA and the Biden Administration not just for this decision, but for working throughout this 404(c) process to consult with our Tribes. EPA’s action today helps us build the future where our people can remain Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq for generations to come.”
“Today is a historical moment in time and we would like to thank the EPA for finalizing the Clean Water Act protections that will safeguard our lands, water and culture,” said Bristol Bay Native Association President & CEO Garvin Federenko. “The people of Bristol Bay have always been stewards of our lands and natural resources with traditional ecological knowledge passed on from generation to generation since time immemorial. Today is a day for celebration with gratitude to EPA, as well as the people of Bristol Bay for being engaged in the process to have our voices heard, and thank you to everyone who has supported our region over the past two decades.”
The fight to protect Bristol Bay, and its irreplaceable resources, has had support from a unique bipartisan coalition, including commercial and sport fishermen, jewelers, chefs, businesses, residents, politicians on both sides of the aisle, and millions of Americans over several comment periods. Although Clean Water Act 404(c) protections provide certainty that Pebble cannot be built in Bristol Bay, Bristol Bay’s Tribes and regional organizations will remain vigilant and continue working to safeguard our lands, waters and the people they sustain from future threats.
Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation (BBEDC) represents 17 CDQ communities & exists to promote economic growth and opportunities for Bristol Bay residents through sustainable use of the Bering Sea fisheries.
Bristol Bay Native Association (BBNA) represents 31 Bristol Bay Tribes & is the regional nonprofit Tribal consortium providing social, economic, and educational opportunities to tribal members.
Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) is a diversified Alaska Native investment corporation dedicated to the mission of “Enriching Our Native Way of Life.” Established through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, BBNC works to protect the land in Bristol Bay, celebrate the legacy of its people, and enhance the lives of its shareholders.
United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB) is a Tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay Tribal governments (that represent over 80 percent of the region’s total population) working to protect the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq way of life in Bristol Bay.
The Natural Resources Defense Council:
EPA Protects Bristol Bay, Alaska with Pebble Mine Veto
WASHINGTON, DC (January 31, 2023) – The Biden Administration today dealt a blow to the massive and controversial gold and copper mining project in Bristol Bay, Alaska called the Pebble Mine. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Final Determination under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act that not only prohibits the Pebble Mine but also restricts future mining of the Pebble deposit in certain headwaters of Bristol Bay.
Joel Reynolds, Western Director and Senior Attorney at NRDC, made the following statement:
“This is an existential win for Bristol Bay, for the region’s tribes and communities, for science, and for nature at its very best.? The wild salmon fishery of Bristol Bay is a national treasure, protected at last from a relentless assault by an underfunded foreign corporation hoping to enrich itself at the expense of the people of Alaska.”?
“EPA’s decision is a victory for science over politics, people over profits, and biodiversity over extinction.? The battle against the Pebble Mine has pitted an essentially eternal supply of food against an essentially eternal threat of irreparable harm—and today the planet won.”
Taryn Kiekow Heimer, Senior Advocate and Deputy Director of NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project, made the following statement:
“This victory has been decades in the making and is the fruit of relentless advocacy by Bristol Bay Tribes, commercial fishermen, and conservation groups to protect the greatest wild salmon fishery in the world.”
“EPA saved Bristol Bay from an ecological, economic, and environmental justice tragedy. By rejecting the behemoth proposed by a greedy foreign mining company, EPA protected the needs of the Tribes, communities, and commercial fishermen that rely on Bristol Bay’s extraordinary salmon runs. It’s a bipartisan win with a global impact.”
Bristol Bay provides half the world’s wild sockeye salmon, supports 15,000 jobs, and generates $2.2 billion in economic activity every year. If fully developed, the Pebble Mine would produce more than 10 billion tons of mining waste requiring storage, forever, in a wet and seismically active region.
Over the past two decades, Bristol Bay residents, Tribal members, commercial fishermen, sportsmen, conservation groups, chefs, investors, businesses, faith-based groups, and more have repeatedly urged EPA to use its 404(c) authority to protect Bristol Bay from the threat of the Pebble Mine.
Joel and Taryn have both written blogs with further information to be available here and here respectively.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC
From filmmaker Mark Titus, director of the films The Breach and The Wild:
I am crying into my tea and pinching myself while writing this.
Today the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered the proposed Pebble Mine a final death blow – issuing a 404(c) Clean Water Act veto to end the threat of the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay.
You read that right. Pebble, as we know it, is dead.
Because people like you cared enough to fight for this sacred place for three decades, we have a reason to believe in hope for wild salmon, our survival on this planet and the possibility of working together to make seemingly impossible things happen. If you’re reading this, you’re a part of this because you cared. Your heart made you a part of this historic, monumental victory for the ages.
You are joining Bristol Bay’s first stewards: The Yupik, Dena’ina, Alutiiq and Athabaskan people of Southwest Alaska who led the grinding effort to protect the irreplaceable land, waters and salmon of Bristol Bay over these last 30 years. An entire generation of people have fought with their blood, sweat and tears every day – for decades – to retain the sanctity of their way of life; culture; spiritual identity and traditions. Getting out of bed every day to do what is right. Leading the way for the rest of us to follow.
You are also joining the dozens of NGOs and nonprofits, thousands of commercial fishermen, sportsmen and women, businesses and chefs – and the tens of thousands of people working behind the scenes, writing letters, making phone calls, crying out for this sacred place to remain intact for future generations. All told, over four million peoplemade their voices heard when it was time to tell the EPA to save what we love. I am sure, if you are reading this, you are one of them.I first came to Bristol Bay in 1991 to work a summer job in a salmon processing plant. I ended up falling in love. In love with Alaska, in love with her people, in love with the hard work and wilderness and wild salmon still teeming in her vast and wild rivers. All told I spent three summers in Bristol Bay working with salmon. That led to a decade guiding people in Southeast Alaska’s wilderness in the pursuit of salmon. In a convergence with my other passion, storytelling, my heart was called to make two documentary films, The Breach and The Wild about Bristol Bay’s wild salmon and this fight for them. I’m now filming the third and final film, The Turn, to complete a trilogy. And I’ve spent the last 4 years building a company, Eva’s Wild to sell Bristol Bay’s wild salmon to Americans and give back with every purchase to the next generation of Bristol Bay’s indigenous leadership. 32 years of my life have been in orbit around Bristol Bay and its wild salmon. Here’s to the rest of it being so as well.
Such is the longing I have for this place and these fish. And I am one tiny example of this. Ask any commercial fisherman, or lodge owner or conservationist or person who has been blessed enough, as I was, to stumble into this vast and achingly beautiful place.So what does this mean exactly? EPA’s decision today does two things. First, it prohibits the use of nearly 25 square miles at the headwaters of Bristol Bay as disposal sites for dredged and fill material associated with building and operating the Pebble Mine. Second, it restricts the size of future mining proposals at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, which encompasses nearly all of the sub-watersheds of the North Fork Koktuli River, South Fork Koktuli River, and Upper Talarik Creek. In total, the area is nearly 310 square miles. In essence, it renders Pebble’s mine, in its 2020 proposed form, inoperable.Photo: Cassie Bergman
Remembering honored elders who have gone on before us like the late Bobby Andrew and Marie Paul – it is with deep gratitude I want to thank Bristol Bay’s Indigenous People for their leadership and shining, humbling example of what real, sustained stewardship looks like.I also want to thank the dogged examples of perseverance by United Tribes of Bristol Bay; Salmon State; Bristol Bay’s commercial fishermen; Trout Unlimited; Wild Salmon Center and all of the conservation groups who worked tirelessly on this daunting effort. I want to thank the Biden Administration for making good on their promise and the U.S. EPA under the guidance of Administrator Regan for the integrity of their process. Thanks too, to all members of Congress who continued to believe in and fight for what is right – especially, from my own state of Washington, Senator Cantwell for her unwavering support of the people, land and waters of Bristol Bay.We should celebrate today. Hell, we should celebrate all week and make this a national holiday!! How rare to find a victory of this magnitude in such a divided time. This win for Bristol Bay should be the benchmark for what success looks like when we put our differences aside and work for something bigger than ourselves.
And in the eddy of this river of celebration, I need to remind myself and you, that we can’t ever let our guard down. The $500 billion dollars of mineral deposits in Bristol Bay’s headwaters aren’t going anywhere. And you can rest assured there are men, right now, scheming to get at it, somehow, some way. We must be ever-vigilant.
We’ll do our part in telling this ongoing story in The Turn and in the work over at Eva’s Wild. I am grateful beyond measure for your voice in this victory for the world’s most robust salmon stronghold. A system that is feeding the world half its supply of totally regenerative, always wild sockeye salmon – and sequestering vast quantities of carbon in a time it’s desperately needed for the survival of our planet. And I am grateful, in advance for your work and support in the days ahead of us, in saving what we love, one day at a time.Let’s Celebrate: Click On Posters to Watch The Breach & The WIld for FreeThank for you reading this and continuing to be a vital part of this community. We are truly in this, for the long haul, together.
Long Live Wild Salmon & Long Live Bristol Bay…
In Wildness… ~ Mark
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publicly announced a Clean Water Act 404(c) Final Determination finding that mine waste would harm the Bristol Bay watershed, and restricted its discharge into rivers, streams and wetlands of the North and South Fork of the Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek, rivers in the vicinity of the Pebble deposit.
The decision effectively prevents development of the long-proposed Pebble gold and copper mine, which for decades has threatened the world’s most productive wild sockeye salmon runs, Alaska’s strongest Chinook salmon run, and the region’s famed sport and commercial fishing industries.
“This is an incredible day for the Bristol Bay region.” said Nelli Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited. “For more than a decade, the science has remained strong and public support has been unwavering for Clean Water Act protections. An Alaska-sized thank you to the Biden Administration and the EPA for listening to Alaskans, Tribes, anglers and hunters, and for doing the right thing for a world-class renewable resource and the people and jobs that depend on it. The work in Bristol Bay isn‘t done, but today is a milestone to be celebrated.”
“Pebble Mine would destroy massive amounts of water and land in the heart of a wild, pristine and productive landscape. These safeguards are reserved for special places and Bristol Bay fits the bill perfectly. While there is more work to be done, with this news we can begin to work toward a bright future for Bristol Bay without the shadow of the Pebble mine constantly hanging over our heads,” said Brian Kraft, president of Katmai Service Providers and operator of two Bristol Bay fishing lodges. “This sends yet another very strong message to the Pebble Partnership: your mine is not wanted here; we have better plans for Bristol Bay.”
“Clean Water Act 404(c) protections have always been a common-sense safeguard for Bristol Bay. Today, the people and businesses in Alaska and across the country who stood up for Bristol Bay should take a bow, because their efforts have protected the world’s most important wild salmon runs and the communities that depend on them,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “It’s long past time for Pebble to recognize that it will never have community or legal standing to develop this mine. Now, it’s time for us to further strengthen protections for the entire Bristol Bay watershed that match the scope of the threat to this special place.”
Today’s news culminates a 13-year plus process to protect Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble mine. Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act gives the EPA the authority to restrict, prohibit or deny mine waste from being discharged into waters of a region if it determines it will have unacceptable adverse impacts on the fishery or water resources. Alaskan Tribes, sportfishing groups and commercial fishermen first petitioned the EPA to act in 2010. After numerous rounds of scientific assessment and public comment, including support from hundreds of businesses and organizations, the proposed protections were released in 2014, but never finalized.
In 2019, the EPA under the Trump administration sought to withdraw the 2014 Proposed Determination for Bristol Bay—a sudden decision without scientific justification and disregarding public input. Trout Unlimited challenged the EPA’s decision as arbitrary and capricious and contrary to the Clean Water Act’s governing standard in court. In July 2021, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of TU, finding that the EPA could withdraw a proposed determination only if the discharge of materials would be unlikely to have an “unacceptable adverse effect.”
Following the lawsuit, EPA Administrator Michael Regan committed to working towards protections for the fishery. In May 2022, the EPA issued a revised Proposed Determination that reflected the analysis of new scientific data. This summer over a half a million comments were submitted to the EPA in support of finalizing Clean Water Act protections. In all, over four million comments submitted during seven public input periods supported the finalization of 404(c) protections for the Bristol Bay watershed.
The Final Determination comes just six months after the Bristol Bay region set a new record with 79 million sockeye salmon returning to its rivers, streams and lakes. The 404(c) safeguards add another important layer of protection for the Bristol Bay watershed against the proposed Pebble mine. The Clean Water Act 404 permit for the proposed mine was denied by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2020. In December 2022, Pedro Bay Corporation finalized a deal to place 44,000 acres of land into conservation easements, complicating the primary proposed road corridor for Pebble mine.
Trout Unlimited, the nation’s oldest and largest?coldwater?fisheries conservation organization, is dedicated to caring for and recovering America’s rivers and streams, so our children can experience the joy of wild and native trout and salmon. Across the country, TU brings to bear local,?regional, and national grassroots organizing, durable partnerships, science-backed?policy muscle, and legal firepower on behalf of trout and salmon fisheries, healthy?waters?and vibrant communities.? In Alaska, we work with sportsmen and women to ensure the state’s trout and salmon resources remain healthy far into the future through our local chapters and offices in Anchorage and Juneau.?
Katmai Service Providers represents 64 Alaska fishing, hunting, bear viewing and tourism businesses that operate in the Bristol Bay region. The group is dedicated to resource protection through stewardship, promoting public access, fostering cooperation among users, participating in future development planning, promoting safety and education and enhancing Katmai National Park recreational activities. Brian Kraft is the president of the KSP and the owner of two sportfishing lodges in southwest Alaska, one in Igiugig, Alaska and one near Dillingham, Alaska. https://katmaipark.org/
Statement on EPA’s Bristol Bay Protection Announcement
Background: Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Final Determination for Alaska’s Bristol Bay, putting in place protections under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and effectively stop the proposed Pebble mine. The Final Determination establishes limits on mine waste disposal in Bristol Bay rivers, streams and wetlands to protect the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, which produces more than half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon. In 2022, the Bristol Bay salmon fishery broke all records. Nearly 80 million sockeyesalmon returned to the bay and its rivers, breaking the previous record of 67.7 million sockeye salmon set in 2021. For more than a decade, Bristol Bay Tribes, commercial fishermen, businesses, and large majorities of Alaskans have demanded enduring protections for Bristol Bay.
Below is a statement from Bonnie Gestring, Earthworks’ Northwest Program Director.
“We’re thrilled to see the Environmental Protection Agency fulfill its commitment to the people of Alaska to provide enduring protection for Bristol Bay, its economy, its salmon, and its people from the dangerous and destructive Pebble Mine. Congratulations to the Biden administration and EPA for seeing this landmark decision through. We are proud to stand in support of the Bristol Bay Tribes and commercial fishermen whose lives and livelihoods depend on this thriving fishery.”
EPA finalizes protections for Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine
The EPA released a final determination protecting wild Sockeye Salmon headwaters from a proposed gold and copper mine
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final determination on Tuesday to restrict the use of certain Bristol Bay headwaters as a disposal site for dredge and fill materials, effectively preventing the proposed Pebble Mine from moving forward. This comes after a national effort this past summer when environmental advocacy groups, commercial fishers, Tribes, restaurants, anglers, and outdoor stores generated more than half a million comments in favor of protecting the important watershed and salmon-breeding grounds in Southwest Alaska. Local communities and advocacy groups have been fighting the Pebble Mine for over two decades.
In response, environmental advocates from Alaska Environment and Environment America made the following statements:
“The headwaters of Bristol Bay are, quite simply, a really bad place for a mine, and I’m thrilled that the EPA is effectively preventing the open-pit Pebble Mine. The region is home to an incredible range of wildlife and remains healthy because it’s been spared a lot of the harsher touches of industrialization,” said Alaska Environment State Director Dyani Chapman. “Over the past 20 years, scientists, the local Indigenous communities, fishermen and broader public have asked repeatedly for strong and permanent protections for Bristol Bay. This EPA determination is a long-awaited win for Sockeye Salmon and the entire Bristol Bay region.”
“We are so excited that the Biden administration has fulfilled their campaign promise to provide protections for Bristol Bay,” said Environment American Public Lands Director Ellen Montgomery. “Around the world, we are losing the equivalent of a football field worth of nature every minute. With this decision, thankfully, the headwaters of Bristol Bay won’t be added to that tally.”
The Pebble Partnership, the much-maligned conglomerate in charge of the Pebble Mine project, also released the following statement (and an expectation that appeals and legal action will be taken):
The EPA’s preemptive action against Pebble is not supported legally, technically, or environmentally.
“Today’s action by the EPA to preemptively veto the proposed Pebble Project is unlawful and unprecedented. For well over a decade, we have argued that fair treatment under the rules and regulations of the U.S should be followed for Pebble or any other development project. Unfortunately, the Biden EPA continues to ignore fair and due process in favor of politics. This preemptive action against Pebble is not supported legally, technically, or environmentally. As such, the next step will likely be to take legal action to fight this injustice.
“The Pebble Deposit is an asset belonging to the people of Alaska. The land around Pebble was selected by the state for its mineral potential as part of the process in which Alaskans were granted statehood. EPA continues to blatantly ignore the state’s interest in this case. EPA’s actions preclude any development on over 300 square miles of Alaska land. This violates Alaska’s Statehood Compact and the ‘no-more’ clause of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which requires congressional approval of any additional park land in Alaska. The EPA is violating the U.S. Constitution by taking away the State and the project’s legally protected property interests in the mineral rights underlying the land, without any just compensation.
“The state, as the landowner, has repeatedly demanded the federal agency follow the prescribed permitting process for Pebble. It is worth noting that the state permitting process was never initiated for Pebble nor was the state’s role in federal permitting allowed to conclude. In addition, no environmental harm will occur if EPA allows the federal permitting process to be completed. Work on the project cannot begin until both the Federal and state permitting processes are completed.
“The EIS for Pebble shows the jobs and revenue from Pebble development could be substantial. As such, the state has a significant interest in a full and fair evaluation of the project.
“Further, the communities closest to the project have also been ignored – repeatedly – by the EPA throughout this process. The EIS demonstrates the profound economic impact of Pebble development for the Iliamna Lake area communities through jobs, economic activity, revenue, and infrastructure. The EIS states Pebble development can be done in an environmentally responsible manner without harm to the Bristol Bay fishery. Unfortunately, EPA’s decision ignores their purported commitment to environmental justice as it dashes the hopes of hundreds of local Native Americans for a brighter economic future.
“The EPA decision to try to destroy the Pebble opportunity is just one more piece of the Biden administration’s war on domestic natural resource development. It has attempted to stop mining, fossil fuels development and timber harvesting on many fronts in Alaska. The Biden strategy when it comes to securing the minerals required for its green energy goals seems to be to give some passing support for the development of boutique minerals such as lithium and rare earths in the U.S., but to seek the enormous supply of base metals such as copper needed for EV’s, solar panels, wind turbines, hydroelectric plants, and the associated infrastructure from other nations.
“We have seen what happens when our nation is dependent on others for our resources, for instance the Saudis for more oil production. When we go to China seeking the copper and other minerals we need for our green energy transition, the reaction will likely be more problematic and the cost more expensive.”
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a longtime proponent of the Pebble project, also announced his administration’s legal action to reverse the EPA’s Clean Water Act intentions to prevent the mine.