EPA Recommends Further Bristol Bay Protections (UPDATING)

Big news from today’s delayed Environmental Protection Agency Proposed Determination over the quest for permanent Bristol Bay protections from projects such as the Pebble Mine. Early today, the EPA announced its findings and will recommend further protection mandates for the Bristol Bay watershed.

First up, here’s the EPA’s Press release:

SEATTLE (May 25, 2022) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 10 Office announced, for public review and comment, a revised Proposed Determination under Clean Water Act Section 404(c) to prohibit and restrict the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed as disposal sites for the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with mining the Pebble Deposit. If finalized, EPA’s Section 404(c) determination would help protect the Bristol Bay watershed’s rivers, streams, and wetlands that support the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and a subsistence-based way of life that has sustained Alaska Native communities for millennia. 

“The Bristol Bay watershed is a shining example of how our nation’s waters are essential to healthy communities, vibrant ecosystems, and a thriving economy,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “EPA is committed to following the science, the law, and a transparent public process to determine what is needed to ensure that this irreplaceable and invaluable resource is protected for current and future generations.” 

“Bristol Bay supports one of the world’s most important salmon fisheries,” said Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10 Casey Sixkiller. “Two decades of scientific study show us that mining the Pebble Deposit would cause permanent damage to an ecosystem that supports a renewable economic powerhouse and has sustained fishing cultures since time immemorial. Clearly, Bristol Bay and the thousands of people who rely on it deserve the highest level of protection.”  

The Proposed Determination issued by EPA’s Region 10 evaluates an extensive record of scientific and technical information that spans nearly two decades. The Proposed Determination finds that the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with mining the Pebble Deposit could result in unacceptable adverse effects on salmon fishery areas in certain waters within the Bristol Bay watershed. One example of an adverse impact is the permanent loss of 8.5 miles of streams would result in fish displacement, injury, and death.?The Proposed Determination takes into consideration information that has become available since the Agency’s 2014 proposal—including new scientific analyses and the Pebble Limited Partnership’s 2020 Mine Plan. 

Bristol Bay’s salmon resources have significant nutritional, cultural, economic, and recreational value, both within and beyond the region. The total economic value, including subsistence uses, of the Bristol Bay watershed’s salmon resources was estimated at more than $2.2 billion in 2019. The Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery generates the largest component of this economic activity, resulting in 15,000 jobs and an economic impact of $2.0 billion in 2019, $990 million of which was in Alaska.  

The Proposed Determination proposes to prohibit discharges of dredged or fill?material associated with mining the Pebble?deposit into waters of the United States within the mine site footprint for the 2020 Mine Plan located in the South Fork Koktuli River, North Fork Koktuli River, and Upper Talarik Creek watersheds. It also proposes to restrict discharges of dredged or fill material associated with any future plan to mine the Pebble deposit into certain waters of the South Fork Koktuli River, North Fork Koktuli River, and Upper Talarik Creek watersheds that?would result in adverse effects?similar to?those associated with the 2020 Mine Plan. The prohibition and restriction in the revised Proposed Determination only apply to discharges of dredged or fill material associated with mining the Pebble Deposit. This action does not apply to any other resource development projects in the state of Alaska.  

EPA Region 10 will solicit public comments on the revised Proposed Determination at public hearings in June and by written submissions through July 5. For more information, visit: www.epa.gov/bristolbay.  

The Washington Post’s story included this snippet, including a delayed comment from the Pebble Partnership, which is the face of the Pebble Mine project:

The EPA’s action, if finalized, may finally put an end to a decade-long legal and political tussle over the fate of this corner of southern Alaska as President Biden strives to protect a greater share of the nation’s wilderness.

“The Bristol Bay watershed is a shining example of how our nation’s waters are essential to healthy communities, vibrant ecosystems, and a thriving economy,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for the mine’s sponsor, said in an email that Pebble Limited Partnership is “waiting to see the final details before offering specific comments.”

Using a rarely used authority under the Clean Water Act to protect wetlands from being dumped with waste, agency officials found the proposed mine would destroy 8.5 miles of streams and lead to “unacceptable” injury to the region’s salmon.

Several Alaska and other environmental/conservation groups released statements, which we’ll update as they come through. First up: Trout Unlimited Alaska:

Alaskan anglers, hunters, local businesses applaud EPA’s release of proposed safeguards for Bristol Bay; 40-day comment period opens  

Protective measures will safeguard important salmon spawning rivers in Bristol Bay’s headwaters from large-scale mine waste disposal.  

ANCHORAGE, Alaska—Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is taking an important step toward safeguarding Bristol Bay’s fisheries, communities and economy through section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act by announcing its revised Proposed Determination for Bristol Bay. If these proposed protections are finalized, they will prohibit and restrict the discharge of mine waste into rivers, streams and wetlands of the North and South Fork of the Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek, rivers that would be heavily impacted if the Pebble mine was built. Today’s announcement also marks the start of a 40-day public comment period that ends on July 5th and coincides with the beginning of fishing season in Bristol Bay, where a record of more than 70 million sockeye salmon are forecasted to return in 2022. 

“We applaud the EPA for taking this step toward protecting Bristol Bay’s wild salmon fisheries and the Alaska communities that depend on them,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “There are no good arguments for a large-scale mining operation in the headwaters of some of the world’s best and most critical salmon habitat. The Clean Water Act is designed to safeguard special places like these. We are pleased that the EPA is listening to Alaskans and anglers across the country and acting on the science showing that mining in Bristol Bay would lead to unacceptable impacts on Alaska’s lands and waters.” 

“As an organization that represents more than 64 Alaska fishing, hunting and tourism businesses we are absolutely thrilled by the important step the EPA took today. We appreciate that the EPA recognizes how important and valuable these rivers are to our fisheries, businesses and families. This is great news heading into our busiest time of year.” said Brian Kraft, President of the Katmai Service Providers and owner of Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge in Bristol Bay. 

“This is fantastic step forward that Alaskans have been urging for over a decade.  It’s clear that the EPA is taking the decades of strong science into consideration and the concerns of the people and businesses in Bristol Bay seriously.” said Nelli Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited. “Advancing 404(c) is a welcome and essential piece of the puzzle for keeping Bristol Bay’s fisheries, and the communities, industries and opportunities they support vibrant.” 

“What a relief to see progress on something local people and businesses have been requesting for so long. This provides another layer of certainty that prevents the Pebble Mine from moving forward and takes some of the stress away from local businesses like ours. This step allows us to plan for the future without constantly having to worry that a giant mine, unwanted by the vast majority of Bristol Bay residents and Alaskans, will threaten what we have here.” said Nanci Morris Lyon, long-time resident of Bristol Bay and owner of Bear Trail Lodge.  


Local Tribes, and sport and commercial fishing groups first requested the EPA to use the Clean Water Act to proactively protect Bristol Bay’s headwaters in 2010. After numerous rounds of scientific assessment and review, proposed Clean Water Act protections were released in 2014 but never finalized. In 2019, the EPA under the previous administration sought to withdraw the 2014 Proposed Determination for Bristol Bay—a sudden decision based on politics and without scientific justification. 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 Regan publicly acknowledged the importance of clean water to the Bristol Bay region and committed to working towards protections for the fishery and the people who depend on it.  In January, 2022, the agency announced that it intended to issue a revised Proposed Determination by May 31, 2022, for Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed. 

During past public comment periods that sought input on Clean Water Act section 404(c) action in Bristol Bay, more than 1.5 million comments from Bristol Bay and Alaska residents, as well as others from across the country supported strong protections for the Bristol Bay watershed. 


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. 

From ARC Initiatives, which represents several Bristol Bay groups:

Tribes, Commercial Fishermen, Conservation Groups Respond to EPA’s Next Step Forward to Protect Bristol Bay

EPA Announcement Comes Before the Start of Fishing Season, Groups Eager to Urge EPA to Finish the Job During Comment Period

(Dillingham, Alaska) – Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noticed its publication of a Proposed Determination (PD) regarding the Pebble deposit for Bristol Bay the next step in the process that brings EPA one step closer to enacting 404(c) Clean Water Act protections for the region. 

This announcement is an important step forward in the 20-year tribally-led fight to protect Bristol Bay. When the full draft of the PD is published in the Federal Register tomorrow, Tribes, commercial fisherman, and conservation groups will review the substance of EPA’s proposal to ensure it aligns with the requests of the region to provide full and lasting protections for Bristol Bay.  

Next, EPA will begin a comment period today that will run through July 5th and will also host public hearings to gather feedback from the region on June 16th and 17th, providing the public an opportunity to weigh in on their proposal. 

Bristol Bay is home to the most ecologically and economically important remaining salmon fishery on Earth – providing half the world’s wild sockeye salmon. The lands and waters of the region sustain the cultural and spiritual identity of tribes in the area, support an economy valued at over $2.2 billion and employ tens of thousands of people in commercial fishing, hunting and sportfishing, outdoor recreation, and tourism. 

In response to EPA’s announcement, Tribes, commercial fishermen, and conservation groups issued the following statements: 

“As stewards of these lands and waters since time immemorial, our people welcome this step towards permanent protections for our waters and way of life,”said Alannah Hurley, Executive Director for the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “Today’s announcement by the EPA is a good start in this effort. It’s clear the science supports the need for our region’s headwaters to be protected from a mine like Pebble’s impacts, at the site and downstream. We appreciate EPA’s efforts to address the threat Pebble poses to our lands, waters, and way of life in Bristol Bay, and hope to see the agency finalize strong protections this year.”

“This is great news for all those preparing for what should be another incredible fishing season in Bristol Bay,” said Tim Bristol, Executive Director of SalmonState. “Today’s announcement is a key step towards what can and should be one of the Biden Administration’s signature achievements, protection of the world’s most productive and profitable wild salmon fishery. 

“We welcome this essential step by EPA toward the protection of Bristol Bay from the threat of Pebble Mine. But make no mistake: We won’t rest until EPA has completed the process and stopped this uniquely destructive project forever,” said Joel Reynolds, Western Director and Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “NRDC and its 3 million members and activists  are eager to continue working with the Biden administration and EPA Administrator Regan to finally finish the job of protecting Bristol Bay this year.” 

Today’s announcement is an important step toward protecting Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine for good and we hope EPA will move quickly to finalize the 404(c) Clean Water Act process to enact durable, long-lasting protections for the region, as we have requested, as soon as possible,” said Katherine Carscallen, Director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. “With a predicted record-breaking fishing season kicking off shortly, it couldn’t be more clear what is at stake if Pebble Mine were built: thousands of jobs, a sustainable economy, and an irreplaceable way of life are all on the line. For years Bristol Bay’s fishermen have been asking the EPA to finalize Clean Water Act protections for our fishery and stop the Pebble Mine. Before we head out on our boats, we’ll weigh in once again and urge the EPA to protect Bristol Bay’s 2.2 billion dollar sustainable economy and the 15,000 jobs imperiled by the Pebble Mine.” 

Once the comment period concludes, EPA will take public input into account and release a Revised Determination (RD), before ultimately issuing their Final Determination– putting in place 404(c) Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay. 

Additional Background:

Bristol Bay plays a central role in the cultural and spiritual identity of tribes in the area, employs tens of thousands of people, and generates billions of dollars in economic activity annually. Yet, for decades, the region has been threatened by the proposed Pebble Mine—a large open pit mine intended to extract copper, gold, and molybdenum. If fully built, the mine would produce up to 10.2 billion tons of toxic waste that would remain on site forever.

Earlier this year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game released its 2022 Bristol Bay Commercial Salmon Fishing Outlook. The report projects that more than 73.4 million sockeye salmon will return to Bristol Bay this season—far exceeding last year’s record-breaking numbers. These record projections are due to thousands of years of Indigenous stewardship and sustainable management that has kept Bristol Bay’s watershed unpolluted and pristine. 

From Alaska Environment:

Statement: EPA should finalize permanent protections for Bristol Bay from proposed Pebble Mine 

The EPA will release a proposed legal determination that if finalized, will effectively block the Pebble Mine, protecting fragile wetlands and wildlife

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Environmental Protection Agency will release a proposed determination on Thursday that would effectively prevent mining in the Pebble Deposit, which is located between two rivers in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed. The environmental regulators are basing the proposed determination on provisions under the Clean Water Act. The public comment period on the proposed determination will start on May 26, 2022 and continue until July 5, 2022. 

In response, Alaska Environment’s State Director Dyani Chapman issued the following statement:

“Bristol Bay is a vast, beautiful and ecologically important region. It is home to one of the last healthy salmon runs in the world, brown bears, over 190 species of birds and a host of other wildlife. If the Pebble Mine is allowed to move forward, it would destroy thousands of acres of wetlands, fragment a contiguous healthy ecosystem, and could pollute Bristol Bay with mining refuse and chemicals. This is one of the final steps for the EPA to deliver a massive safeguard for salmon and other wildlife that depend on the wetlands and streams in the Bristol Bay area. We all should make sure to submit a public comment within the next month in support of the proposed determination that will prevent what would be catastrophic damage from one of the largest mining operations in the world. We look forward to the EPA finalizing these protections so that the wildlife and communities near Bristol Bay can continue to safely enjoy clean water and healthy habitat.”
Alaska Environment, along with Environment America and its 30 state affiliates work together for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate. We are part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to getting things done.

UPDATE: Here’s Bristol Bay Organizations, which also includes UTBB, Bristol Bay Native Association, Bristol Bay Native Corporation and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation:

Bristol Bay eager to see EPA working on permanent protections, look forward to seeing process finalized before the end of 2022

DILLINGHAM, AK- Bristol Bay Tribes, fishermen, and communities are pleased to see today’s announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding revised proposed protections for our lands and waters.

EPA announced it will publish its “revised proposed determination” on May 26, outlining potential Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay. This momentous announcement comes more than a decade after Bristol Bay Tribes, Alaska Native corporations, fishing and other stakeholders initially petitioned the EPA to use the Clean Water Act to protect the region from the threat of large-scale mines like Pebble. Today’s announcement is an exciting and overdue step toward permanent protections.

According to EPA, the revised determination will prohibit and restrict discharges of dredged or fill material associated with mining at the Pebble deposit. Bristol Bay regional organizations look forward to reviewing the determination and providing further response in a June 1 press event (details below).

In its announcement, the EPA detailed upcoming opportunities for the public to weigh in on these protections. Bristol Bay organizations are urging the EPA to truly listen to Bristol Bay’s people and communities about the protections needed to ensure that this action truly safeguards the way of life that has sustained our region since time immemorial.

EPA said it will take written public comments on the revised proposed determination from May 26 through July 5, and will hold public hearings as follows:

-June 16, 9 a.m.-12 Noon: Dillingham, Alaska 

-June 16, 5-8 p.m.: Virtual (Online Webinar)

-June 17, 12 Noon-2 p.m.: Newhalen, Alaska

Bristol Bay leaders responded to the news:

UTBB Executive Director Alannah Hurley: “As stewards of these lands and waters since time immemorial, our people welcome this step towards permanent protections for our waters and way of life. Today’s announcement by the EPA is a good start in this effort. It’s clear the science supports the need for our region’s headwaters to be protected from a mine like Pebble’s impacts, at the site and downstream. We appreciate EPA’s efforts to address the threat Pebble poses to our lands, waters and way of life in Bristol Bay, and hope to see the agency finalize strong protections this year.”

BBNC President & CEO Jason Metrokin: “Bristol Bay Native Corporation welcomes EPA’s announcement today. This proposal is good news for Bristol Bay, and it could not come at a more opportune time, as millions of sockeye salmon return to their home waters and the people of the region ready their nets to once again engage in annual subsistence and commercial fishing activities. Nevertheless, no one in Bristol Bay will rest until this 404(c) action is finalized. We look forward to participating in the public processes that will lead to a final determination before the end of the calendar year.”

BBEDC Board Chair Robin Samuelsen: “EPA’s announcement that it is working on protections for our home is great news. There is no safe place to store mine waste at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, and EPA’s action must prevent this in any of the critical subwatersheds that support the productivity of our wild salmon and all they sustain.”

BBNA Acting President & CEO Bruce Baltar: “We are thankful EPA has released its proposed determination, which is an important step towards protecting the Bristol Bay watershed from large scale mining. Bristol Bay people have sought such protections for more than two decades, and today’s announcement brings us another step closer to that goal. We urge the EPA to listen to the science and to the people of Bristol Bay to finalize strong comprehensive protections for our communities and way of life.”


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.

And here’s a statement from SalmonState:

SalmonState urges swift action on EPA’s proposed protections for Bristol Bay, Alaska

May 25, 2022


HOMER— Today, as a record-breaking forecasted run of more than 70 million sockeye salmon make their way toward Bristol Bay, Alaska, the Environmental Protection Agency announced proposed protections for the region — which for more than two decades has been threatened by the ominous specter of the proposed Pebble Mine. SalmonState joins with Tribes, fishermen and Bristol Bay communities in urging the EPA to finalize these protections before the end of 2022.

“A massive open pit mine and waste site has no place at the headwaters of the most productive sockeye salmon habitat on the planet, and we are heartened that, once again, the EPA has recognized that,” said SalmonState Executive Director Tim Bristol. “Bristol Bay is still wild, pristine and breaking records when it comes to numbers of salmon returning. Today’s announcement is a key step towards what can and should be one of the Biden Administration’s signature achievements — protection of the world’s most productive and profitable wild salmon fishery.”

After years of study and two peer reviews, the Obama Administration determined the proposed Pebble Mine would cause unacceptable damage to Bristol Bay. They proposed protections for the region in 2014. Those protections were scuttled by the Trump Administration soon after a closed door meeting between then EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and then Pebble CEO Tom Collier. After Pebble applied for a Clean Water Act dredge and fill permit, Americans from across the political spectrum came out against Pebble Mine, and in support of keeping Bristol Bay’s salmon habitat healthy. The Army Corps of Engineers denied Pebble its Clean Water Act dredge and fill permit in 2021. Pebble is currently appealing that denial, but even a permit denial does not permanently protect the region from the threat of Pebble. That’s where protections under the Clean Water Act come in.

Today’s announcement indicated EPA will conduct a 40-day public comment period, which will be open until July 5. It will also hold three public hearings, two in the Bristol Bay region and one virtually. The details of proposed protections will be publicly noticed in the Federal Register tomorrow, Thursday, May 26. Upon review of public comments, assuming the agency moves forward with protections for Bristol Bay, the EPA will next release a Recommended Determination, which will be followed by a Final Determination, establishing Clean Water Act 404(c) protections for Bristol Bay.

SalmonState works to keep Alaska a place wild salmon and the people who depend on them thrive.

The Pebble Limited Partnership released the following statement:

Anchorage, AK – Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively released the following statement about today’s news that the Environmental Protection Agency intends to advance its preemptive veto of the Pebble Project:

“This is clearly a giant step backward for the Biden Administration’s climate change goals. I find it ironic that the President is using the Defense Production Act to get more renewable energy minerals such as copper into production, while others in the Administration seek political ways to stop domestic mining projects such as ours. As we are still actively working through the established permitting process via our appeal of the Army Corps of Engineers permit denial, we oppose any action that is outside of that process. This preemptive effort is clearly a political maneuver to attempt to block our ability to work through that established process. Further, the Army Corps of Engineers published an Environmental Impact Statement for Pebble in 2020 with input from many agencies including the EPA that states that the project can be done without harm to the region’s fisheries. The EIS further notes the tremendous economic opportunity the project represents for the communities around Iliamna Lake where year-round jobs are scarce, and the cost of living is very high. We still need an opportunity to review the specific details that will be in the preemptive veto action. It is also worth noting that there are several additional internal steps that the EPA must follow before anything is final including a public comment period and a decision by the Assistant Administrator. The Pebble Project remains an important domestic source for the minerals necessary for the Biden Administration to reach its green energy goals. If it blocks Pebble it will have to seek minerals to meet its goals from foreign sources which simply do not have the same environmental standards as we do.”

And some additional social media reactions: