Multiple Groups Send EPA A Letter To Implement Bristol Bay Protections

More than 120 local organizations sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency requesting further protections for Bristol Bay. First, here’s the press release:

Washington, D.C. — Today, 122 conservation and environmental groups sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan and EPA Region 10 Administrator Casey Sixkiller. The letter urges these EPA leaders to promptly issue a Final Determination that prohibits or restricts past, current, and future plans for the Pebble Deposit and permanently protects Bristol Bay’s headwaters from porphyry mining like that proposed for the Pebble Deposit. 

Issuing a Revised Determination is the next step in the EPA’s 404(c) Clean Water Act process. Currently, we are in the midst of a comment period on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Proposed Determination—which closes on September 6, 2022. Once the comment period on the Proposed Determination concludes, the EPA will consider public input before issuing a Revised Determination, followed by their Final Determination. 

This group comment letter reflects an unprecedented consensus of more than 120 groups from Alaska, the nation, and the world—representing tens of millions of supporters and spanning an exceptional spectrum of interests—all of which have concluded that the protection of Bristol Bay is essential and that the time is now. At a time of deep division on so many issues of national significance, the imperative of EPA action to protect Bristol Bay remains crystal clear. 

Below is an excerpt from the letter: 

“The indisputable facts, clear science, and extensive administrative record overwhelming support a final 404(c) determination that permanently protects Bristol Bay’s headwaters from not only the mine plan proposed by PLP [Pebble Limited Partnership] in 2020, but any future porphyry mining like that proposed for the Pebble deposit. Our groups stand by to support final agency action that ensures the people of Bristol Bay can end the year with strong, durable, and comprehensive 404(c) Clean Water Act protections in place.” 

Additional Background: 

Bristol Bay salmon sustains the cultural and spiritual identity of the tribes in the area, provides more than 50 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon, supports an economy valued at over $2.2 billion, and employs tens of thousands of people in commercial fishing, hunting and sportfishing, outdoor recreation, and tourism. Yet for nearly two decades, communities in the region have been forced to live in uncertainty because of Pebble Mine. If fully built, the mine would generate up to 10 billion tons of toxic mining waste—threatening to destroy the interconnected streams and waterways that are critical to Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery. 

In late July, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game released the final Daily Run Summary for the 2022 season in Bristol Bay, which estimated that 78,366,952 million sockeye salmon returned to the region—breaking the previous record of 67.7 million sockeye set in 2021. These numbers continue to increase as some fishing continues, but will be finalized in the fall. The record-breaking fishing season is due to thousands of years of Indigenous stewardship and sustainable management that has kept Bristol Bay’s watershed unpolluted and pristine. 

And here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Administrator Regan and Regional Administrator Sixkiller:

On behalf of the 122 undersigned organizations, representing tens of millions of members and supporters from across the country, we write to commend the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for issuing the Proposed Determination for the Pebble Deposit Area under Section 404(c) of the Clean Waterpage1image1359987616

Act1 that, if finalized, would prohibit the Pebble Mine and restrict future mining of the Pebble deposit.2 We urge EPA to promptly issue a Final Determination that not only prohibits or restricts past, current, and future plans for the Pebble deposit but also protects Bristol Bay’s headwaters from large-scale porphyry ore mining like that proposed for the Pebble deposit. We support EPA in completing the 404(c) process as swiftly as possible and call on the agency to finalize comprehensive protections by the end of 2022.

Our comments support and amplify requests from United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB), Bristol Bay Native Association (BBNA), Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation (BBEDC), and Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay (CFBB) urging EPA to finalize strong and durable protections for Bristol Bay this year.3 We join the economic, cultural, and social leaders of Bristol Bay calling on EPA to issue a Final Determination that provides comprehensive protections for Bristol Bay and the people who depend on it:

[O]ur region couldn’t be more united in our call on the EPA that the 404c protections must provide true protections to the headwaters, not just limitations based on past mine plans. …The Tribes have asked for prohibitions of this type of development in the headwaters since they petitioned the EPA back in 2010. And we have not changed that ask over the last 12 years…[W]e encourage the EPA to think more holistically about the headwaters area.4

The people of Bristol Bay have been seeking these protections for more than two decades and while this is an important step we need comprehensive protections so that future generations are not left with this threat.5

More than 78 million salmon returned to Bristol Bay this summer,6 shattering last year’s record of 67 million. Integral to this extraordinary run is the environmental sustainability of the region, something the science unequivocally confirms that the proposed Pebble Mine—and indeed all large-scale porphyry ore mining in Bristol Bay—would jeopardize.

Bristol Bay is home to the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery, generating $2.2 billion annually, supporting 15,000 American jobs, supplying 57 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, and sustaining Indigenous communities since time immemorial.7 As they have for millennia, the wild salmon returning each year to Bristol Bay ensure a way of life for Alaska Native communities, providing subsistence food, subsistence-based livelihoods, and the lifeblood of culture.

1 33 U.S.C. § 1344(c),
Proposed Determination of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 Pursuant to Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act Pebble Deposit Area, Southwest Alaska (May 2022), May2022.pdf.
3 BBEDC, BBNA, BBNC, CFBB, and UTBB Press Release, Bristol Bay Leaders call on EPA to finalize comprehensive protections this year (June 1, 2022),
4 Statement by Alannah Hurley, UTBB Executive Director, Bristol Bay Leaders call on EPA to finalize comprehensive protections this year (June 1, 2022),
5 Statement by Gayla Hoseth, BBNA Natural Resources Director, Bristol Bay Leaders call on EPA to finalize comprehensive protections this year (June 1, 2022),
6 Alaska Dep’t of Fish & Game, Bristol Bay Daily Run Summary (2022),
7 McKinley Research Group, The Economic Benefits of Bristol Bay Salmon (Feb. 2021), 3_17_21.pdf