Supreme Court Rejects State’s Pebble Mine Case (Updating)


After Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the State of Alaska called on the Supreme Court to reverse course on the Environmental Protection Agency’s veto on the Pebble Mine project, the United Tribes of Bristol Bay and Bristol Bay Native Corporation, jointly filed an amicus brief to counter Alaska’s legal arguments.

Now the Supreme Court has analyzed the case and determined Alaska’s case wasn’t sufficient enough to proceed.

The tribal groups released the following statement:

Bristol Bay Tribes Respond to Supreme Court Decision to Reject Alaska v. EPA 

(Anchorage, AK / Washington, DC) – Today, the United States Supreme Court rejected the State of Alaska’s lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Water Act veto of the Pebble Mine. Today’s decision means any challenge to EPA’s actions in Bristol Bay must go through the regular federal appeals process. 

Bristol Bay Tribes, commercial fishers, and people in the region first asked the EPA to step in and use its authority to veto Pebble Mine more than thirteen years ago, and courts throughout the judiciary have repeatedly upheld EPA’s authority. The EPA’s 404(c) authority is an exceptionally durable tool that the agency has used judiciously – only three times in the last 30 years and 14 times over its 50-year history. 

The EPA’s decision to veto the Pebble Mine reflects the will of the overwhelming majority of Bristol Bay residents – whose views the United Tribes of Bristol Bay and Bristol Bay Native Corporation represented in an amicus brief that laid out the legal reasoning for the Supreme Court to reject the State’s lawsuit.

The people of Bristol Bay are steadfast in their commitment to protect the region’s valuable resources, including its world-class salmon runs that have fed the people of the region for millennia and are the foundation of a commercial fishing industry that generates more than $2 billion annually in economic output and supports more than 15,000 jobs.

Bristol Bay Tribes released the following statements in response to the court’s decision:

“Although we are glad to see the Supreme Court refuse to entertain Governor Dunleavy’s frivolous lawsuit challenging the EPA’s Clean Water Act veto of the Pebble Mine, we should have never gotten to this point in the first place,” said Delores Larson, Interim Executive Director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “Governor Dunleavy’s lawsuit was – and will continue to be – a massive waste of taxpayer money that only represents the interests of the company behind the Pebble Mine. The Tribes, fishermen, and local communities were just celebrating the EPA’s Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay, just to be thrown back into uncertainty less than a year later. We are tired of being ignored by our elected officials. Our leaders must listen to us and help protect this watershed forever.” 

“We are thankful that the Supreme Court refused to take up the State of Alaska’s claims,” said Jason Metrokin, Bristol Bay Native Corporation President & CEO. “EPA’s decision to protect Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine is grounded in decades of science, public support, and legal authority. Nevertheless, we know there is still uncertainty about the watershed’s future. Our elected officials should listen to the majority of Alaskans who want to see Bristol Bay protected and work on legislation for the region.

Additional Information: 

The EPA’s Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay span two decades of research, scientific studies, and public engagement processes, making the Pebble Mine proposal the most studied mining proposal in American history. 

Bristol Bay and its salmon sustain the cultural and spiritual identity of the Tribes and people of the region, provide more than 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, 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. Recent polling finds strong concern among Alaskan voters for protecting all of Bristol Bay from large-scale mining and strong support for efforts to protect the watershed from large-scale mining permanently. 

We’ll update this post as needed.

UPDATE: Gov. Dunleavy posted his reaction on X, formerly known as Twitter:

At a time when federal administrations are fast-tracking renewable energy development, the careful production of copper and other rare minerals, like those found in the Pebble area, is more important than ever. The Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the State’s case directly is disappointing, but the State is confident that the lower courts will find that EPA violated the law with its prohibition and restrictions against any mining activity within the 309-square mile area surrounding the Pebble deposit. The State will continue to fight against this flagrant overreach.

UPDATE: From the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Supreme Court Rejects Lawsuit to Reverse EPA Protections for Bristol Bay 

WASHINGTON (January 8, 2024) — The United States Supreme Court today rejected the State of Alaska’s unusual lawsuit seeking to challenge, directly in that court, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Water Act veto of the Pebble Mine. The decision means any challenge to EPA’s actions in Bristol Bay must go through the regular federal appeals process instead. 

The following is a statement by Joel Reynolds, Western Director and senior attorney for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). 

“The Supreme Court has properly rejected the Dunleavy Administration’s ‘Hail Mary’ challenge to EPA’s veto of the Pebble Mine. 

“Yet this reckless zombie project, advanced by a Canadian company over the objections of Alaskans for decades, remains an imminent threat. Without federal legislation put in place to provide permanent protections, Bristol Bay will inevitably continue to face merciless pressure for large-scale mining in its headwaters, despite all effort to preserve this national treasure.”

For more information and a timeline on efforts to protect Bristol Bay, visit Joel’s blog

From the Associated Press story on the ruling:

The justices did not comment in turning away the state’s attempt to sue the Biden administration directly in the high court over its desire to revive the proposed Pebble Mine in the state’s Bristol Bay region. …

Alaska still can try to reverse the decision through the more typical process, starting in a lower court and appealing any unfavorable decisions to the Supreme Court.