EPA Takes Another Step Toward Bristol Bay Protection From Pebble Project (Updating)

The ongoing saga of calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to implement permanent protections on the Bristol Bay region to mining projects like the Pebble Mine appeared to take another step today.

The EPA put out a press release/report that will possibly offer lifetime protection in and around Bristol Bay’s rich salmon waters. Here’s the summary of that news:

On December 1, 2022, EPA Region 10 Regional Administrator Casey Sixkiller transmitted to EPA’s Office of Water Assistant Administrator Radhika Fox the following Clean Water Act Section 404(c) Recommended Determination to prohibit and restrict the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed as disposal sites for certain discharges of dredged or fill material associated with developing the Pebble Deposit:

he U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 is recommending to prohibit and restrict the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed as a disposal site for the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with mining at the Pebble deposit, a large ore body in southwest Alaska. EPA Region 10 is exercising its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) (Box ES-1) and its implementing regulations at 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 231 because of the unacceptable adverse effects on anadromous1 fishery areas in the Bristol Bay watershed that would be likely to result from discharges of dredged or fill material associated with such mining. Development of a mine at the Pebble deposit and such a mine’s potential effects on aquatic resources have been the subject of study for nearly two decades; this recommended determination is based on this extensive record of scientific and technical information. The scope of this recommended determination applies only to specified discharges of dredged or fill material associated with mining the Pebble deposit.

Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed (Figure ES-1) is an area of unparalleled ecological value, boasting salmon diversity and productivity unrivaled anywhere in North America. The Bristol Bay watershed provides intact, connected habitats—from headwaters to ocean—that support abundant, genetically diverse wild Pacific salmon populations. These salmon populations, in turn, help to maintain the productivity of the entire ecosystem, including numerous other fish and wildlife species. 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 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. The Bristol Bay watershed supports the world’s largest runs of Sockeye Salmon, producing approximately half of the world’s Sockeye Salmon. These Sockeye Salmon represent the most abundant and diverse populations of this species remaining in the United States. Bristol Bay’s Chinook Salmon runs are also frequently at or near the world’s largest, and the region also supports significant Coho, Chum, and Pink salmon populations. Because no hatchery fishes are raised or released in the watershed, Bristol Bay’s salmon populations are entirely wild and self-sustaining. Bristol Bay is remarkable as one of the last places on Earth with such bountiful and sustainable harvests of wild salmon. One of the main factors leading to the success of this fishery is the fact that its diverse aquatic habitats are largely untouched and pristine, unlike the waters that support many other salmon fisheries worldwide.

Lots of reaction from this EPA salvo, starting with Trout Unlimited:

EPA announces Recommended Determination for Bristol Bay; one step away from finalizing Clean Water Act protections 

Recommended Determination marks the furthest step reached in the Clean Water Act 404(c) process, supported by record numbers of Bristol Bay residents and Alaskans 

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took an important step toward safeguarding Bristol Bay’s fisheries, communities, and economy by deploying the authorities of the Clean Water Act to protect the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska. The agency announced a Recommended Determination for the headwaters of Bristol Bay that could prohibit and restrict mine waste in rivers, streams and wetlands of the North and South Fork of the Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek.  

“EPA did the right thing today. Bristol Bay is the world’s finest salmon fishery. The vast majority of local Alaska Native villages and sportsmen and women across America want to see it protected. Thanks to EPA for applying common sense to a common problem for the common good,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “We thank the EPA for their commitment to carrying out the Clean Water Act 404(c) process for Bristol Bay and honoring the wishes of the affected Alaska Native villages. We urge Administrator Regan to finalize the protections for Bristol Bay as soon as possible.” 

“We are excited to see this important step happen and won’t let our guards down until these safeguards are across the finish line. It would be fantastic to start 2023 with the final approval of these protections. So many Alaskans, like myself, that depend on Bristol Bay’s salmon and clean water, need certainty that the resources that sustain us won’t be threatened by incompatible development,” said Brian Kraft, president of the Katmai Service Providers and owner of two Bristol Bay sportfishing lodges.  

“The Recommended Determination is a big step forward in a process that Alaskans have championed for more than a decade,” said Nelli Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited.?“We thank the EPA for continuing to move forward with Clean Water Act 404(c) safeguards for the headwaters of Bristol Bay. We encourage the EPA to move swiftly to issue a Final Determination. The science and public support areoverwhelmingly in favor of Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay.” 

The EPA’s Recommended Determination comes after its May 2022 Proposed Determination to protect the Bristol Bay watershed. The EPA received more than half a million comments, including a record number of comments from Bristol Bay residents and Alaskans, who supported the Proposed Determination and requested that EPA finalize protections as soon as possible. The EPA now has 60 days to issue a Final Determination or affirm, modify or rescind protections for the Bristol Bay watershed, including its world-class sockeye salmon fishery that broke the all-time record with more than 78 million sockeye salmon this summer.  


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—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. The revised Proposed Determination was released on May 25, 2022, triggering a 4-month long comment period and bringing in more than half a million comments in support of Clean Water Act protections. The EPA then extended its timeline to review comments and issue a Recommended Determination to December 2, 2022.  

During past public comment periods that sought input on Clean Water Act section 404(c) action in Bristol Bay, more than 4 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.  

United Tribes of Bristol Bay:

Bristol Bay Tribes Urge EPA to End the Threat of Pebble Mine 

EPA’s “Recommended Determination” follows extensive public support for durable protections for Bristol Bay and a record-breaking fishing season

Dillingham, Alaska — Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a “Recommended Determination” detailing potential Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay that could address the threat of the Pebble Mine. 

The release of the Recommended Determination marks the closest the EPA has ever been to finalizing Clean Water Act 404(c) protections for Bristol Bay. The next (and final) step in that process is for the agency to determine whether to issue a “Final Determination” formalizing protections.

“We welcome the Environmental Protection Agency advancing the process for protecting Bristol Bay,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director for the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “After twenty years of Pebble hanging over our heads, the Biden Administration has the opportunity to follow through on its commitments by finalizing comprehensive, durable protections for our region as soon as possible. We look forward to reviewing the EPA’s Recommended Determination in greater detail to ensure it achieves the goal of protecting our people and region from the threat of the Pebble Mine.”

Last May, the EPA released its “revised proposed determination” outlining potential protections for Bristol Bay and took public comments through the summer on their proposal. The agency received more than half a million comments urging the agency to stop Pebble Mine and enact long-sought watershed protections supported by the region’s Tribes, commercial and sport fishery groups, conservation organizations, and millions of Americans. 

Bristol Bay Tribes first requested Clean Water Act protections in 2010, but have been pursuing permanent, durable protections for nearly twenty years. The EPA started considering proposed protections in 2014, following a three-year study of the Bristol Bay watershed and fisheries. After legal challenges, the Clean Water Act process was re-initiated in late 2021.


United Tribes of Bristol Bay 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.

A conglomerate of Bristol Bay-area organizations:

Tribes, Commercial Fishermen, & Conservation Groups Respond to EPA’s Next Step Towards Protecting Bristol Bay

EPA’s “Recommended Determination” follows a 100+ day comment period on its proposed protections for the Bristol Bay region and a record-breaking fishing season

(Dillingham, Alaska) — Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Recommended Determination regarding the Pebble deposit for Bristol Bay. This marks the next step in the process for EPA to stop Pebble Mine by enacting 404(c) Clean Water Act protections for the region. 

The release of the Recommended Determination brings EPA closer than ever before to enacting durable, long-lasting protections for Bristol Bay through the 404(c) process. The next step in this process is for the agency to formalize protections in a “Final Determination” before they are enacted.

Earlier this summer, the EPA published a revised Proposed Determination, launching a comment period to provide the public an opportunity to weigh in on their proposed protections. More than half a million people—including 31,000 Alaskans and 2,500 Bristol Bay residents—spoke out to once again resoundingly reject Pebble Mine. 

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

“We welcome the Environmental Protection Agency advancing the process for protecting Bristol Bay,” said Alannah Hurley, Executive Director for the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “After twenty years of Pebble hanging over our heads, the Biden Administration has the opportunity to follow through on its commitments by finalizing comprehensive, durable protections for our region as soon as possible. We look forward to reviewing the EPA’s Recommended Determination in greater detail to ensure it achieves the goal of protecting our people and region from the threat of the Pebble Mine.”

“We are both excited and relieved to see the Environmental Protection Agency follow the science and listen to the public by moving forward with Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay,” said Tim Bristol, Executive Director of SalmonState. “After another record-breaking fishing season, this news is welcome to all those who depend on Bristol Bay and its fisheries. But there is no time to waste; the Biden administration must finalize 404(c) Clean Water Act protections for the world’s most productive and profitable wild salmon fishery as soon as possible.” 

“EPA’s action is an essential step forward for Bristol Bay Tribes and communities, joined overwhelmingly by Alaskans, fishermen, conservation groups, scientists, businesses, and people the world over,” said Joel Reynolds, Western Director and Senior Attorney for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Together, we have fought for more than a decade to stop the Pebble Mine and defend Bristol Bay’s extraordinary ecosystem. With EPA’s announcement today, lasting protection for Bristol Bay is finally within reach.  We urge EPA now to finish the job – for good.”

“This summer’s record-breaking salmon return was thanks in large part to Bristol Bay’s pristine waters and healthy habitat,” said Katherine Carscallen, Director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. “Our fishermen were able to deliver 59 million wild sockeye to the market– something that isn’t happening anywhere else in the world. EPA’s release of their Recommended Determination today is an important step towards finalizing urgently needed protections for the region by the end of the year. We all know what is at stake, it’s time for the EPA to finish the job.” 

We’ll update if more statements come in.

UPDATE: Here’s Environment Alaska:

EPA takes next step to protecting Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine

The EPA released a recommended determination to use powers vested from the Clean Water Act to protect wild Sockeye Salmon headwaters from a proposed gold and copper mine

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Environmental Protection Agency issued a recommendation to restrict the use of certain Bristol Bay headwaters as a disposal site for dredge and fill materials, in effect preventing the proposed Pebble Mine from moving forward. This comes after a national effort this past summer when environmental advocacy groups, commercial fishers, restaurants, anglers, and outdoor stores generated more than half a million comments in favor of protecting this important watershed and salmon-breeding grounds in southwestern Alaska. This is the first time the EPA has reached this step in the fight to stop the Pebble Mine. The final step of the process is for the EPA to finalize the determination. 

“Bristol Bay is home to one of the last strong salmon runs in the world. To keep it that way, we must ensure the headwaters remain free of mining, dams and other destructive industrial activities,” said Alaska Environment State Director Dyani Chapman. “The whole ecosystem, including bears, birds, walruses, whales and freshwater-dwelling seals, depend on the salmon, and the salmon depend on healthy water. Local residents, scientists and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently. I’m glad the EPA has taken this next step, and look forward to the administration finalizing protections in the New Year.”

“The fight against the Pebble Mine has been raging for decades, and in that time the public has taken over four million actions to protect Bristol Bay” said Environment American Public Lands Director Ellen Montgomery. “Across the globe, we are losing more nature every minute, and we must protect the places we still have. It’s past time to finalize protections for Bristol Bay, and we all look forward to the EPA issuing strong and permanent protections in the new year.” 


Environment America is a national network of 30 state environmental groups. Our staff work together for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate. Our members across the United States put grassroots support behind our research and advocacy. Environment America is part of The Public Interest Network, which runs organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world, a set of core values, and a strategic approach to getting things done.